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September 4th, 2022

A Change Of Scenery

Vacation” becomes an awkward concept when you’re retired. Isn’t every day a vacation? Kind of? Okay, there is housework to do. Yardwork. Appointments to keep with the doctor, the mechanics. But it isn’t like you’re living to the clock anymore. What “Vacation” becomes instead I think, is Change of Scenery.

And to that effect I and my car (Spirit, the Mercedes-Benz diesel sedan) are boarding the AutoTrain soon for a trip to Florida and Disney World (is it even Walt Disney World anymore?) and a first time visit to Universal. As usual, neighbors and the alarm company will watch the house while I’m away. My new alarm system has cameras inside and out I can monitor remotely, and I can even let a neighbor inside remotely to check on things if that’s necessary. 

I’m trying Universal this next Florida trip since Chapek seems not to want us middle class retirees at Disney World anymore, and single people aren’t allowed to make dinner reservations in a lot of spots I used to love. Universal is smaller and its tickets are about where Disney’s are in terms of price. But they aren’t doing park reservations, they have a bunch of interesting stuff in there, singles can make dining reservations and there is an actual Margaritaville restaurant on the premises. I’ve been to the original Margaritaville in Key West, and the food and drink were very good. Loved the atmosphere, loved the Cheeseburger In Paradise. We’ll see if the one at Universal is as good.

And…if I like it enough they have annual passes that cost and work almost exactly like the old Disney annual passes did. Plus there is also an interesting 1950s themed hotel on premises that I might use for stays when I’m not doing DVC.

And this trip it all fitted together as if by pixie dust and magic. I had to truncate the end of my initial birthday week stay in my DVC room to be back in time for my class reunion. So I added some days at the beginning at a hotel on hotel row near Disney Springs. My two days of Disney park tickets don’t start until I check into my DVC room, so there were several days I was expecting to do nothing except Disney Springs, and maybe the miniature golf spots which are fun. Now I can do a couple days at Universal instead.

I bought two park hopping days at Universal (they only have two parks, three if you count the new water park), and downloaded their app to manage it all, just like I do with the Disney app. Supposedly there are busses that will shuttle you from hotels on hotel row to Universal. Or I can do a Lyft.

I paid for the tickets using my Disney Card. Hahahahaha… They offer me a Universal card I might just get it.

Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | React!
September 3rd, 2022


There’s the baggage you carry that’s yours, that got dumped onto you at some point in your life, and then there’s the baggage you carry that belongs to others. Oftentimes you will be told that you don’t have to carry someone else’s baggage too. But letting go of theirs is not always easy, let alone possible. More often than not it’s easier to let go of your own, because that’s something you have control over. 

I retired last February, spent some time with my brother out in California, then came back to my little Baltimore rowhouse and began the work of integrating what was in my office at the Institute into my house. In my previous post, Walking Through Hell To Get To Heaven I mentioned that after working for 23 years and a few weeks for the Space Telescope Science Institute I’d managed to get a few awards and recognition for the work I did, along with some photos with the astronauts, and that now I was trying to find a place for it all on my den walls.

It’s been going through all that, seeing for myself the evidence of work I did on Hubble, James Webb, and Roman, over the course of nearly half my adult working life, that I think I’ve finally shaken off the low expectations laid on me when I was a kid. I’ll be 69 in a few days. It’s taken that long, and seeing that I might not have enough room on my den walls for all my awards and certificates.

I’m still the weird art kid I always was, still the techno nerd, still the guy in the conversation who can pull out all sorts of strange references out at a moment’s notice because he sees a connection others probably just find…you know…Weird. It’s taken me this long to allow myself to be that and not let that Weird Geek Kid baggage attach to me anymore. I’m retired. I don’t care. You get this close to the end of the road and it improves your perspective about things like that.

Homophobia for example. For most of my adult life I believed that I avoided a lot of internalized homophobia because it was falling in love with a classmate that woke me up to the reality of my sexual nature. But while I never hated myself, never felt the least bit of shame about it, the cultural hatred and contempt still left its mark. You get the boot from one workplace after another when they find out they hired a faggot and eventually you come to expect it. Low expectations again. And I have met lots of gay men who were smart, kind hearted, hard working, thoroughly decent people living well below their potential because striving for something better just hurt too much. 

All my adult life I searched for someone to love and cherish and make a life together with.  Someone decent, honest, responsible. Someone that in a better world I might have met at a church social or youth retreat or a coffee house like The Lost And Found. But the good boys of my generation were terrified. They didn’t want their parents to hate them, the didn’t want God to hate them. And should their parents have found out anyway, and told them to pack themselves off to a therapist or a nice ex-gay ministry, they’d pack their bags and dutifully headed to the nearest one. Yes mom, yes dad, I will put my heart and my soul and whatever fulfilled and contented love life I might have had, put them in this little coffin and bury it. Because I am your good son.

They talk about sin. I don’t think they really get the concept. Sin is telling a kid they’re worthless and making them believe it. Sin is poisoning a kid’s ability to love and accept love from another right at the cusp of their adulthood. 

We all carried that baggage to some degree back then. And still do. For many in my generation it will always be a time before Stonewall. But the painful thing to realize is we carry each other’s baggage too. I carry your baggage, as well as mine. In our solitude. In our loneliness.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | React!
August 31st, 2022

Things My ITAR Trainer Never Told Me…

This method of securing documents was not covered in my ITAR training that I can recall. So I’m assuming it’s something only those with a higher clearance than mine need to know about…


If it keeps the Time Magazine covers safe, it’s probably good enough. 

Posted In: Politics

by Bruce | Link | React!

…But What Are You?

Delta Airlines ad from 1973…

To the guys that bellyached all through our struggle for the right to marry about how promiscuous gay men are…


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by Bruce | Link | React!

Lyrics That Stab

Someone posted this to one of the “social media” things I still regrettably frequent.

Greatest ONE LINE in a song ever. Not verse, chorus or bridge. Just one line.

Here’s mine:

Today…I feel like pleasing you, more than before.

I am on the cusp of 69 and I remember vividly the moment I understood this song, more than before. It was a punch in the gut.

He was beautiful, and I was head over heels. But it was 1971.

Posted In: Life

by Bruce | Link | React!
August 28th, 2022

How To Feel Pretty After Years Of Plague

Get a haircut!

This afternoon I got my first haircut since the plague began. There’s a really good spot near The Avenue where I go called Crafted Hair. Nice folks. I feel pretty for a change. Which is a rare thing, but a good haircut helps.

I actually like wearing it long so not getting it cut for a couple years didn’t bother me. In fact I appreciated the chance to see just how long I could grow it (not more than a few inches below the shoulder as it turned out). But it became apparent that it was like letting my lawn just go to weeds. Yes it looked natural, but it was ugly and I don’t need any reinforcement about that. Unless I had it tied back in a ponytail I could not look in a mirror without thinking I looked like a strung out drug addict. So first thing I would do every morning was comb it and then tie it back or else I would not even want to look in a mirror.

Now it’s back the way I like it. It’s taken me years to finally get what to tell a professional hair stylist what exactly that I want. It was frustrating because some of them would get it instinctively but they were the rare exception. I would say “layered” and even show them some photos and sometimes they’d get it and sometimes not. Then I found out you say short, medium and long layers…but even that wasn’t quite it. This time the stylist when he got a fix on what I wanted, told me it was “shag layers”. So often it’s knowing the terms professionals use. When I came back home I googled shag layers and yeah, that’s It.

A good haircut really perks me up. Plus, I love it when I don’t have to wear it in a ponytail to keep it out of my eyes. I like hair to be long and free.

Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | React!
August 24th, 2022

Walking Through Hell To Get To Heaven

I still need to buy frames for these.

23 years and a few weeks working for the Space Telescope Science Institute, a year and a few weeks as a contractor, 22 and a couple months as staff, I managed to get a few awards and recognitions for the work I did. Plus some photos with the astronauts. At the moment I’m not sure I have enough space on my den wall for all this. But I will make some if I have to. Maybe take down the dry board and the cork board and put them on the back of the door to my den.

The little DayTimer page there at the bottom is where it all starts. Where everything that was wondrous and wonderful began. Although I would have told you I was doing pretty good already then. No love life, I would never have a love life, but I had work that I thoroughly enjoyed and which made me a good living. I had an apartment of my own. I was able to buy a new car. I was living the life. Mostly. Somewhat. I don’t think Keith had dumped me just yet.

When I became a contract programmer I started using the 24 hour day DayTimer pages as a work diary. The page in this photograph is Monday November 16, 1998…the day my life changed. That was when a Maxim Group recruiter named Rodney cold called me at the contract I was working, and asks if I was interested in some part time side work for the place that operated the Hubble Space Telescope. There in the section for Phone Calls is the number he gave me to call Lee Hurt at the Space Telescope Science Institute. I see that I worked until 6PM that day, with a half hour break for lunch at 12:30.

Rodnay didn’t have to ask me if I wanted that work twice, and would not have even had I not been upset that the work I was doing was not the work I was promised.

I’d been told I would be creating a system to migrate all the local databases of the regional insurance companies that the big one I would be working for had gobbled up into the big one’s master database. It sounded great. But when I got there I found out that system had already been written and put into production and I would just be doing some bug fixing and maintenance.

The guy who had written it had converted to a very conservative form of Mennonite and was renouncing the use of computer technology. He was only staying on long enough to hand the system over to me. When I took a look at the code I was horrified.

It was written in Visual Basic. Okay…I was one of Maxim’s VB experts…I actually taught classes in it for them by then. No problem right? Well…Yeah…this guy had written the backend engine in a very primordial form of Basic…which VB would allow but….why would you? It was awful. His code was full of GOTOs and GOSUBs and the variables were all global and yes, mostly declared at first use, which sadly at the time VB would allow unless you put “Option Explicit” at the beginning of your code. He used friggin’ Numbers for the labels his GOTOs and GOSUBs were supposed to go…I guess to make it look like the Basic of old. His variables were weirdly named. It was excruciatingly difficult to read, let alone follow the program flow.

The only thing I can think is VB was mandated by corporate, and like a lot of degreed programmers he had no respect for what Microsoft had done with it and very little grasp of how to program in it other than everything he’d heard from CompSci professors who hated it. Microsoft gave the language structure and scoping since DOS days. I hadn’t needed to deal with line numbers since the Commodore C64 I started with. I had subroutines and functions (MS Basic had both). I could scope variables tightly and pass them either by value or by reference…although under the hood it was always by reference…when you passed by value a temporary variable was created and the reference to that was passed. It just acted like you were passing by value. And you didn’t have pointers, you had pointers to a descriptor which had the actual pointer in it. You needed to know that distinction if you were doing mixed language programming and needed to throw a pointer somewhere.

The only fly in the ointment was error handling, because then it was On Error Goto, which everyone hated until Dot Net came along and gave us Try-Catch blocks. But you could finesse it with a centralized error handler and some fancy resume 0 resume next footwork.

Anyway…I was appalled at what I saw in there and was immediately primed to get the hell out. The codebase was a rat’s nest. Maintaining it would be a nightmare. Everything I had written up to that point had, in some sense, User Interface stuff, Processing stuff, and Backend stuff, as isolated as I could make them. Even before I heard the term three tier programming and saw it modeled. I considered it self defense. What I saw had everything mushed together in five huge Dot BAS files that had no logical rhyme or reason to them. It was the worst Basic code I’d ever laid eyes on, and by that time in my career I’d seen some whoppers.

Then Rodney called. It was like the gods saw my anguish and decided to cut me a break. He gave me the number of Lee Hurt at STScI and I called and it turned out to be full time work and I begged Maxim to let me out of the contract I was working and go over there. I’m not doing anything creative here I cried. I’m being asked to maintain code I don’t even want to touch without rubber gloves. Every time I open one of those Dot BAS files I feel like I’m walking into the Addams Family house. Get Me That Space Telescope Job!!!!

When the contract boss, who was listening to that conversation just outside the conference room door where I’d gone for privacy, heard all that he gave me the boot anyway and I was free to go.

So I interviewed with Lee Hurt, and then her supervisor at the time, Mark Kyprianou. And I was in. Did my first work there Thanksgiving week. A little over a year later they asked me to come on board as staff and for the next 22 years and 2 months I made the Institute and the Hopkins campus home. It was like the myths say about having to walk through Hell before you get to Heaven.

Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

Signs Of Fall – And What Felt Like Having An Office In Paradise

I’m going to need to look for new signs of summer’s end now, since I’m not always walking around campus anymore…

That day eleven years ago I was taking a stroll over to the Student Union building to get some student food for lunch at the cafeteria there. On the way out I saw two ladies, possibly administrators, trying to manipulate a very large wooden framed blackboard on wheels out the door and up some stairs. I offered to help and we get it up up to the ground level plaza. Then I tell them I can walk with them it to wherever they are taking it and they thanked me and said no. One of them says they can always get a “strapping young man” to help them up the last of the stairs.

It was on the tip of my tongue to cheerfully reply, “They’re back in season aren’t they” but I kept my mouth shut.

This Facebook memory brings me back to those days that only ended recently. I forgot sometimes how wonderful it was to be working there, and not in some sterile soulless office park. I’d worked in lots of those before then, plus some outright industrial slums. Those were the worst. You just felt the whole environment you were surrounded by beating your soul down. By comparison the Hopkins campus felt like what Heaven must be like. The campus is situated next to a Wyman park which is fairly large, and situated next to Hampden with its row houses and eateries on The Avenue. On that side Hopkins feels very much like a park, with lots of trees and paths to wander. The students would come and go along with the seasons and you felt it like a rhythm of life. There was the season of new students, the arrival of the Institute swallows, the season of graduations, the swallows going and the parking garage suddenly quiet…a harbinger of winter. At the end of my workday I might walk down San Martin drive, over the bridge and through the woods, then to roads leading to The Avenue where I’d have dinner and a drink. 

The other side of the campus, alongside Charles Street, is city. Step outside the campus and there are food trucks, eateries, high rise apartment blocks and city busyness everywhere. Sometimes for lunch I would wander that side of Hopkins and grab a sandwich before going back to the office. The city has its seasons too…at least near the campus. There was the season of students moving in…most of the high rise apartments near the campus housed Hopkins students. There followed the season of food trucks and busy streets. Then came the season of students moving out…often announced as having arrived with the sprouting of signs telling the kids where they could sell their used textbooks. There would be students in their caps and gowns posing for family pictures by the big Johns Hopkins sign at the Charles Street entrance.  

In 23 years I built up a lot of memories wandering that campus. I felt so much at home there. I had my office space there fully equipped with a little fridge, a microwave and a coffee maker; everything I needed if the day was going to be a long one. It didn’t matter. I loved my job, and there was always the campus to take a think-walk in if I needed one. I saw the seasons come and go. I lived a life there. I’m only now beginning to realize how much.

Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | React!
August 23rd, 2022

It Began With A Heart Attack

This Twitter thread from user Electra Rhode (@electra_rhodes) was actually very good for my heart…

Tube on strike, I dawdled to Paddington on Friday. Passing the old wrought iron sign for Pizza Express, I was reminded of an event 30+ years ago, when I got caught up in a drama that resulted in a divorce, two marriages and many changed lives.

It began with a heart attack

Like Friday, I was ambling along the Marylebone Rd.

Coming towards me are two guys, one a bit older than the other, nicely dressed, laughing, backs of their hands brushing occasionally, as they walked side by side. It’s 1pm & I assume they’ve just had lunch or are on their way.

The older man stops in the middle of the pavement & clutches his upper arm. And drops to the ground. The other guy shrieks, I might do too. I’ve just done a first aid course. I throw my jacket on the ground, kneel down, fish out the mouth guard thing we’d been given & start cpr.

I keep going with heart attack guy (his name’s Tom, btw). His friend, (Tim) wails at our side. In this distance I think I can hear sirens, but it might just be my own heart beating faster than is ideal. Bystanders comfort Tim, someone definitely calls an ambulance.

It feels like 6 years, but only 10 minutes later a paramedic nudges me aside. Good job. He says. I struggle to my feet. Tim and I cling to each other as we wait to see what’s coming. Tom’s loaded into the back, and Good Job Jeff tells us which hospital they’ll go to.

Tim & I are left at the side of the road. The looky loos disperse, & I ask Tim if he wants me to come to the hospital. Better not, he says, they’ll call his wife. Tim isn’t the lover I thought him to be, he’s Tom’s assistant at a fancy merchant bank. Oh. I say. Yes. He replies.

We swop addresses, me because I want to know if Tom makes it, Tim because he’s been snotting up my best cloth hankie which I’d forgotten I’d given him, and he’d like to return it. We pause then. On the corner of the street, at all kinds of crossroads.

Maybe tell him, I say. Maybe. Tim replies. Neither of us checking in on what exactly that means.

Three weeks later there’s a hankie in the post. Washed and pressed. A little note inside.

He’s ok. I told him. We’ll see. Xx T.

Alright, I think. We’ll see.

A month later I get a letter in the post. This is Sheila, Tom’s wife, and boy is she pissed. Legitimately.

She got my address from Biff, who got it from Tom, who got it from Tim. Who, if you remember, got it from me. Wait. You say. Who the hell is Biff? He was best man at Sheila and Tom’s wedding. Back in the day. I find this out three weeks later after a flurry of post goes each way.

So. Tim has told Tom he loves him. Tom has told Sheila he might love Tim (sorry and all), Sheila has cried at anyone who’ll listen. And now Biff has written to me. He loves Sheila, do I think he should say? I ask him if there’s a reason why he shouldn’t. I wait. And wait.

Roll it forward a year. Apart from a Christmas card, a bunch of birthday flowers & a postcard to my pa (idk, it’s a thing) it’s gone quiet. I think no more it except when I walk down the Marylebone Road or blow my nose.

Then a wedding invite turns up on the mat. Sheila & Biff.

The wedding is fancy & I buy a new hat (dark blue velvet, thanks for asking). It matches my best shoes. Tim & Tom give Sheila away & pay for the champagne & flowers! So, that’s a better surprise than the last one they gave her. Biff says, hey the best man finally got the bride.

Roll it forwards another few years, when equal marriage comes in, and there’s another invite on my mantelpiece. Tim and Tom.

It’s a glorious day. I wear the same hat, but I’ve got new shoes. Biff and Sheila fund the drinks and flowers. A gay men’s chorus turn up and sing.

More years pass. The hankie is getting tattered, so I stick it in a clip frame on the wall. Occasional postcards still turn up. Then there’s a lull.

I still think of them though, when I walk past that wrought iron sign. Once or twice a year. Or if someone asks about the frame.

A while later, there’s a black edged card in the mail. Tom’s heart finally did for him.

Tim says, we got almost 30 years, because you learned CPR on a first aid at work course, that your boss made you do.

Thanks, El, he writes, for saving all our lives.

Wow.  Just…wow… Thanks, El, for reminding me how good life can be after all…how good people can be after all.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | React!
August 22nd, 2022

Wait…What About Strike One??

Those of you keeping track of the timeline of my love life fail from my ruminations about it here (oh you poor lost souls…) might recall that about the time of Strike Three’s visit I had also reconnected with Strike One and had begun visiting him a time or two. I could drive down I-95 and visit both. In retrospect I think the fates were trying to slam something into my head that I wasn’t ready to admit just then.

Why don’t you give up? How many more times do you need to be kicked in the face?

Posted In: Life

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Wait…What About Strike One??

The Last One

Ah…Facebook memories…

This was about the one and only time Keith came to visit me in Baltimore. Before that, way before that, when I assumed we were a couple…long distance though it was…he used to live on Hilton Head and I was living in a Baltimore suburb. He came to visit my apartment there in the suburbs several times. That was before he cut it off. But that one visit to Baltimore was when he said he just wanted to be away from the boyfriend for a while and travel around for a bit. I figured they might have been going though a bad patch and not to presume on it. But it was nice having him there with me. Despite myself I fell in love all over again.

I got static repeatedly from the gay happy hour gang I used to hang out with, about how I just needed to go out more and meet people. Which is to say, just go get yourself laid and it’ll be all good. I’ve written about this previously

 For romantics like myself, the social opportunities at this late stage in life are mostly with other singles who are just fine in the singles scene and that’s why they’re still there, not why you’re still there.

So that one time Keith came to visit I brought him with me to one of our happy hour gatherings to show them I actually had a dating history, brief and pointless though it was. Of course it had no effect…see the above link. They seemed to like him. And when he went back to his home and his boyfriend a few days later, it struck none of them to be sad for me. It was the last time Keith and I spent any time together at my place, or I at his.

Today Facebook tells me it’s been 13 years since that visit. Before then, as I said, he lived on Hilton Head and I in the suburbs, and I would go visit him, or he would come up to Maryland and visit me. But it wasn’t those visits Facebook reminded me of seeing this. It was how in between visits we would spend hours on the phone just chatting away about this and that. It was a time before cell phones, when the first affordable cordless telephones began to appear. We would wander around our houses doing housework, imagining we were together for a while. We would chat for hours until the batteries in our phones died, often picking up the conversation again on the wired line.

It’s remembering all those hours at a time we spent chatting about this and that until the batteries died that brings it all back. I was in love. I thought he was too. It was wonderful. I would go visit and it was like a dream. I’d come back home and we’d start the long phone chats again.

Then they suddenly started tapering off, and one day while we were chatting on AOL messenger he told me he was seeing someone else. He told me later that my starting to talk about moving down there made him decide to cut it off.

Strike three. He was the last one.

Posted In: Life

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Last One
August 21st, 2022

Earworm…Brainworm…Is There A Difference??

Mom raised me on a mix of swing from her own teen years, and easy listening that she would tune the radio to while doing housework. Somehow both managed to burrow into me, despite my own teen years being pop rock (bubblegum they used to call it), psychedelica, a little metal, and…classical. The result being my iPod library is a very strange mix of stuff. One minute it’s Metalica, the next it’s Glenn Miller, then it’s Rachmaninov, and then before you know it, it’s Jackie Gleason’s Music For Lovers Only. And while I will readily admit to liking big band swing, since is has respect these days too, easy listening is still a secret shame (this blog gets next to no traffic so I can confess anything I want!). It’s a tradition. Mom’s boy does his own housework to it now.

I’m bringing this up because an easy listening tune I haven’t played or heard in ages got itself wedged into my brain yesterday and it’s still on heavy rotation somewhere in my brain and I have no idea why. Or maybe I do. The listless minutes of retirement have a way of making you aware of things whether or not you want to see them.

This is it. Seriously I haven’t played or heard this in years and it just popped in there yesterday and now it seems to be stuck. My apologies in advance. I should go do some housework now…


Posted In: Life

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Earworm…Brainworm…Is There A Difference??

Artifacts From The Long Distant Past…Or So It Seems…

Just hanging out in the kitchen waiting for my morning bagel to toast. My eyes wander over to my fridge. I’m noticing all the passholder magnets there. As if from another age gone by…

First thing that came to my mind is there is no such thing as a Passholder anymore because there are no annual passes anymore. I suppose those are all collector items now. 


fyi… KEH is where I buy a lot of my second hand film camera equipment. Them and B&H. Both highly recommended if you are into film photography.

The dolphin is a Pismo Beach souvenir. 

Posted In: Life

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Artifacts From The Long Distant Past…Or So It Seems…
August 19th, 2022

When The People Pictures Stopped

Oscar Wilde said that if you know what you want to be, then you inevitably become it – that is your punishment, but if you never know, then you can be anything. There is a truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, – a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, – I act – and I never know what I’m going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun. –Stephen Fry

Wise words that helped clarify something within me. I have always resisted the prison of being a thing, despite wanting to be a thing. There were times in my life I wanted to be a cartoonist, a painter, a photographer. Somehow it never worked. I became a computer programmer, a software systems engineer. It made me a very good living, and I am retiring comfortably on what I made, proud to look back on my time with the teams that worked on Hubble, James Webb, and for a brief period, Roman. But I was always bouncing back to one or more of those other things, telling myself that they were what I really wanted to be.

Eventually, as I grew older, I accepted that I just could not focus on any one of them for very long. I began to think of it as seasonal. Now is the season of drawing, now the season of cameras…the season of computers was when I was as preoccupied with computer work at home as I was at work. There was also a season of writing. There was a season of the open road, which often coexisted with the season of cameras. I came to see myself as hopelessly unfocused, unable to bring to any one of my creative arts the kind of fanatical single minded pursuit that would have got me a career in it. I blamed my cluttered mind. I would never have the large body of works other successful artists did. Randomly wandering between my arts and accomplishing very little would forever be my fate. But maybe it was that cluttered mind that was telling me something all along, that I never listened to: I am not a noun.

And now I’m old and retired, and looking back on all of it, I can see that I actually have accomplished a lot, if I take it all together instead of just looking at the nouns. My artwork has continued to improve, my photographic voice is purer, surer. I understand what I’m doing better. I’m happy with the life I had, random and bewildering though it often was. And lonely…so very lonely. But that’s another story for another time. Or not. Let me leave a small piece of that here, because it’s something I’m still wondering about.

He wasn’t the last guy I took a fancy to. I guess that would be the cute 30-something bartender at a place near The Avenue. It was hopeless of course, but not any more hopeless than all the others really. People who look like that… His name was Eddie. I met him on the gay BBS we both frequented back in the day. He was beautiful and for a time I was all about him. But he was not about me. So I played my trump card. He said he hated pictures of himself. I’m a photographer I told him. I can make you see how beautiful you are. Years later I was primed to play that card one more time, but people far wiser than I in matters of the heart decided not to allow it. People who look like that want people who look like that…

So Eddie and I went on trips into the country, and into the city, and he let my camera give him some love. The more I showed him how beautiful I saw him, the more comfortable he became with my camera. I did some of my best beautiful guy photography with him. And it was the last I ever did.

Eventually he started dating someone else and we went our separate ways.

Time passes, the universe expands, and a day came when I began revisiting the photography I did back in those gay BBS days. I posted a bunch of it on Facebook for the friends I made on that BBS, who I have stayed in touch with. Eddie wasn’t one of them…he simply disappeared, but for one time I saw him managing a booth at one of the gay marches on Washington. I asked him if he was seeing anyone, and he just sighed and told me relationships are So much work. I guess it all gets tiresome when you are so beautiful. I’ve never seen him since. That was before Facebook. So I when I posted a bunch of my gay BBS photography on Facebook, I probably only included one or two of Eddie.

But those tweaked my geek side because they were so damn hard to scan, being Kodachrome slides. Kodachrome slides are notorious for having a blue-ish tint in scans that’s very difficult to get rid of. I ended up buying a highly expensive scanning software for its ability to neutralize that tint. It was still a lot of work, and fiddling with those shots, I became re-acquainted with how beautiful Eddie was. And at some point I began to realize that I hadn’t done anything like it since.

Those shots of Eddie are the last shoots I ever did with anyone posing for me. Much, Much later I’d do some enjoyable work for Baltimore OUTloud, photographing some really beautiful guys wearing barely nothing at all (swim suit fashion shows). But those were all taken at public events and I was simply recording what was happening in front of me. But back in the day, when I was a much younger man, I actually did a lot of one-on-one shoots with a few beautiful guys who I could regularly ask out from time to time. We’d go somewhere, maybe to Great Falls, maybe somewhere in the city, and I’d snap away at them. After Eddie, that all just suddenly stopped.

I’ve been trying to understand this. I’ve been told a bunch…laughingly at times…that my photography is noticeable for it’s nearly complete absence of people. But I have the archive of it all right here in the house with me, and that absolutely wasn’t always true. I look back in time in my archives and I see most of what I did back in the day was people photography. Then the people seem to just vanish. The obvious answer is after Eddie I began to despair of ever finding love, and I didn’t want to keep looking into that abyss. 

Sometimes the pat answers are the correct ones after all. There’s a big gap in my photography right after those sessions with Eddie, where I stopped doing art altogether, along with painting and drawing. That was when I took up computer programming as a creative outlet, which led to the life I have now. In writing computer programs I was immersed in a world of pure logic that didn’t have to touch my emotions, my deepest feelings, where there was only despair. I managed to pull myself out of it the year after I got the job at Space Telescope, and found myself one day wandering among the carnival rides being set up for the student spring fair at Hopkins where STScI was located. That awakened something inside of me, and I began creating art again. But something had changed.

So I think of my artwork as having before the dead zone/after the dead zone periods. My catalogue of negatives and slides reflects that break in the numbering. But here’s the thing: There is almost zero creative people photography in the After period. And revisiting that time, I can see that the photo shoots of beautiful guys ended before the dead zone, when I stopped seeing Eddie.

The pat answer is now I’m too old to be asking beautiful young guys to pose for me. I came close to it that one time I was once more ready to throw down my trump card. But instead I was escorted from the table and shown the door, and now it’s all just despair there, in that one dark empty corner.

No more beautiful guys. You can say my art photography is purer now. I accept it. 



Posted In: Art Life Photography
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on When The People Pictures Stopped
August 14th, 2022


I’ve been writing my bio for my upcoming high school reunion. It’s turning into a multi page thing because there is So Much stuff that’s happened to me over the course of my life, but so far I haven’t been asked to trim it. As of this morning I was still tweaking it, still adding things here and there, because it all comes together to put me at the Space Telescope Science Institute where I retired last February. There are some who might wonder how the hell someone like me, with no college degree and let’s face it, a confused unkempt little high school dork got a job like that and was suddenly executing tests for a billion dollar space telescope over the deep space network. What the hell anyway??

And it occurs to me that my life was a lot like one of those episodes of James Burke’s TV series Connections. If you haven’t watched it I highly recommend it. In it he makes the point repeatedly, it’s the basis for the entire series, that change happens, not exactly randomly, but from people working on things in their own area of interest, borrowing or inspired by people before them who did things in their areas of interest, and nobody really knows while they’re working in their areas of interest, what might come out of it…

An invention acts rather like a trigger, because, once it’s there, it changes the way things are, and that change stimulates the production of another invention, which in turn, causes change, and so on. Why those inventions happened, between 6,000 years ago and now, where they happened and when they happened, is a fascinating blend of accident, genius, craftsmanship, geography, religion, war, money, ambition… Above all, at some point, everybody is involved in the business of change, not just the so-called “great men.” Given what they knew at the time, and a moderate amount of what’s up here [pointing to head], I hope to show you that you or I could have done just what they did, or come close to it, because at no time did an invention come out of thin air into somebody’s head, [snaps fingers] like that. You just had to put a number of bits and pieces, that were already there, together in the right way. -James Burke, Connections – The Trigger Effect

So I’m looking back at my life and how I got here, to being retired, comfortably if not fabulously, in a little Baltimore rowhouse after having worked on two of the great NASA space telescopes, and I still have no college degree, and in many ways I am still that unkempt little dork I was way back when.

First, I wanted to be a cartoonist and a painter. My high school art teacher introduced me to photography as an art form. I did cartoons and photography for my student newspaper, which led me to also wanting to be a news photographer. I became none of that, but it led me to a job as an architectural model maker. I could simulate various building materials with paint and a little ingenuity. Because…

As a kid I became fascinated by building model cars, submarines, airplanes. But eventually the kits bored me and I began improvising. So that fed into making architectural models. I began learning how to read and then scale architectural drawings. You don’t build those things on the fly, so I began learning how to think a process through from an initial set of requirements to the finished thing, before I started work. I began to essentialize shapes and forms in my mind. A complex model could be reduced to basic forms that you could build on.

My maternal grandfather was a radio pioneer back in the days of the first radio stations. He made, then sold and serviced other company’s radios. He died in his middle 40s, in the middle 1940s. All though my childhood anything that mom saw in me that reminded her of her dad she encouraged, even though we didn’t have a lot of money I got Heathkits, Radio Shack kits, and such. When I developed an interest in shortwave radio, because it was kinda fun to listen to the world and before the Internet shortwave was how you did that, I also began dumpster diving for old radios, and getting them working again. Which led me to…

I bought my first computer, a Commodore C64, so I could read radio teletype broadcasts. There was a program cartridge you plugged in, and tuning box you could attach to the speaker of your radio, and see the words appear on the screen. The Commodore’s user interface was a Basic interpreter, written for Commodore by Microsoft. I began fiddling with writing simple Basic programs, just for kicks. In programming, it helps to be able to visualize the program flow in your head because you can’t actually see it. You can reduce the basic operations of a program to simple forms you can build on. There’s the architectural model making…weirdly enough.

At a HAM radio fest where I was searching for tubes to fix a radio I was working on, I discovered I could build an IBM PC compatible from parts being sold there, because the HAMs were using them for their own radio teletype broadcasts. I could have never afforded an actual IBM PC, or any of the compatibles being sold then. But I could buy a part here and there until I had enough to build one. And when I did, I continued teaching myself to write programs, but now with a much more powerful computer, that had access to much more powerful software development tools. 

After one particularly successful project for the architectural model maker I was working for, he gave me a bonus, and with it I bought a copy of Microsoft PDS (Professional Development System) Basic. It came with Microsoft’s first cut of the Jet database machine, which would later become Microsoft Access. So again…there’s the architectural model making. I began learning relational database design and wrote my own contact manager.

With the PC I also began surfing not the internet, which wasn’t yet open to the public, but the world of amature computer bulletin boards. It started I was looking for “shareware” software to run, and message forums to talk with other computer hobbyists. I began learning about networking, and network protocols.

I’m a gay man, and I was also looking for online community, not being comfortable with or good looking enough for the bars. There’s the dork again. I connected with some gay BBS message boards and there I saw what the technology could do for us. At the time everything I knew about homosexuals and homosexuality I got from the culture around me, which was either venomously hostile, or rancidly pitious. Now I saw we no longer had to see ourselves with heterosexual eyes. No matter where we were, in the gay friendly city neighborhoods or hostile rural zones, we could talk freely to each other. It was a revelation that committed me to computer networking…

…which led me to G.L.I.B., the Gay and Lesbian Information Bureau: a gay BBS whose owner wanted it to be an information and knowledge resource for the gay community. There I met, naturally, a bunch of other computer nerds. I volunteered to help out with operations, and began to write software for them.

One of our members worked for a wire service and he got us a daily news digest of all the gay related news articles off the wires. I was stunned at how much of it there was, that you never saw anywhere. We were still people best not spoken of in family newspapers. I wrote a program to take the daily wire service news digest, break it into individual articles and upload them to the BBS along with updated menus for the users. I began learning how to design and write software systems, individual pieces of software that came together to fulfill a task, and which could be reused for other tasks.

Late in the 1980s, the Silverado Savings and Loan scandal bankrupted the people I was building architectural models for, and I was  left desperate for work. A classmate let me live in his basement and there were months I could not pay him rent. He let it slide and I am forever grateful. I posted a message for help on GLIB and one of the men who ran it gave me work writing business software for his company.  There’s where it all comes together. My lucky big break, though I didn’t know it at the time. 

I wrote several business systems for him, including a membership tracking system for a local gay activist group. They had licensed copies of Word Perfect and dBase4, and I wrote a menu driven membership database system that let them print welcome letters with envelopes every month to new members, reminders of coming dues, and enter and edit the data of existing members.

That eventually led me to getting work as a contract software developer. I did contract work for a number of companies, including Baltimore Gas and Electric, Sorbus, Litton-Amecom, and Becton-Dickinson. Eventually I got a contract at the Space Telescope Science Institute. A year later they made me an offer to come on board as staff and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I continued writing business software, because science needs business software too, to track money and progress, for the Hubble Space Telescope Grant Management System, and eventually for the James Webb Space Telescope.

I was still building my own computers from parts because then I ended up with exactly what I wanted in a computer.  My team needed computers to test our applications on but we didn’t have a lot of money in our budget for it, and so, because I’d told them I built my own computers, I was asked to build my team a set of test computers for the software we were deploying to the community. I built them four from all the spare parts and castoffs I could scrounge up. I used swappable hard drive trays to allow me to load whatever operating system I needed to run tests on. I set the test lab up with a custom set of iptables firewalls and every morning ran a program that went through the system logs looking for anyone trying to break into any of it and it sent me a morning digest. From inside our firewalls anyone on the team could run tests once I set a machine up with the right operating system.

That got me notice from management and they put me to work on the team that was building the JWST Mission Operations Center. There I set up and administered a small testing lab for JWST science operations software systems (store bought computers this time…we had money now…), wrote more business programs that tracked progress, captured and catalogued telemetry from the spacecraft cryo chamber tests, and eventually ended up in the flight operations room, conducting the early initial end to end tests in the Flight Operations room, across the NASA deep space network.

After that was turned over to Goddard flight engineers, I did performance testing in the backrooms of the MOC, almost all the way to Launch.

So. From cartoons and painting, to architectural models, from radios to computers, online gay activism to contract software engineering, to Hubble and then to James Webb.

And there’s a bunch more off on a different path…cartoons and painting to architectural model making to computers to online activism to cartoons and photography for local gay papers to work on a film documentary and getting screen credit and an entry in the Internet Movie Database.

As I wrote in my high school reunion bio, it’s not a life I ever expected to have when I graduated in 1972. I had a lot of low expectations dumped on me when I was a kid, growing up with a divorced single mom, which wasn’t helped by being part of a despised minority. But mom loved me and set a good example, and I did some really good stuff along the way. I marched with other gay folk out of the shadows and into the mainstream. I kept on doing my photography, my artwork, had a couple shows, got my cartoons into newspapers. I worked on two of NASAs major space telescopes. We harvested light from near the dawn of time and gave it to science to study. We added a few lines to the book of knowledge.

What a trip it was. Connections.

The question is in what way are the triggers around us likely to operate to cause things to change — for better or worse. And, is there anything we can learn from the way that happened before, so we can teach ourselves to look for and recognize the signs of change? The trouble is, that’s not easy when you have been taught as I was, for example, that things in the past happened in straight-forward lines. I mean, take one oversimple example of what I’m talking about: the idea of putting the past into packaged units — subjects, like agriculture. The minute you look at this apparently clear-cut view of things, you see the holes. I mean, look at the tractor. Oh sure, it worked in the fields, but is it a part of the history of agriculture or a dozen other things? The steam engine, the electric spark, petroleum development, rubber technology. It’s a countrified car. And, the fertilizer that follows; it doesn’t follow! That came from as much as anything else from a fellow trying to make artificial diamonds. And here’s another old favorite: Eureka! Great Inventors You know, the lonely genius in the garage with a lightbulb that goes ping in his head. Well, if you’ve seen anything of this series, you’ll know what a wrong approach to things that is. None of these guys did anything by themselves; they borrowed from other people’s work. And how can you say when a golden age of anything started and stopped? The age of steam certainly wasn’t started by James Watt; nor did the fellow whose engine he was trying to repair — Newcomen, nor did his predecessor Savorey, nor did his predecessor Papert. And Papert was only doing what he was doing because they had trouble draining the mines. You see what I’m trying to say? This makes you think in straight lines. And if today doesn’t happen in straight lines — think of your own experience — why should the past have?

-James Burke, Connections – Yesterday, Tomorrow and You


Posted In: Life

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Biography
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