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August 5th, 2023


There is no growing up, I used to say, there is only growing. Then today I came across this comment I made in a Facebook post about technological change:

Something I’ve noticed: progress makes some people feel old and others always feeling young…

…because you’re always having to learn new sh*t. All this time I’ve been attributing that constant twenty-ish mindset I have to a state of arrested development and that’s not it. It isn’t that I never grew up, it’s that I never got tired of growing up.

Never get tired of growing up.

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

December 26th, 2022

Visited By Three Spirits. . .

The Telescope of Christmas Past…

The Telescope of Christmas Present…

The Telescope of Christmas Yet To Come…


This coming February will be my first retirement anniversary. It’s been a life. I may not live to see everything James Webb discovers, but I had a small hand in it, so in some sense I will be there too.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Visited By Three Spirits. . .

October 27th, 2022

Update. . .

Regarding the previous blog post…here’s one of me after the dental work…


This would have been taken while I was living in a friend’s basement apartment in Rockville for passport I thought to get as a second form of ID since I didn’t have any credit cards. I didn’t get the passport after all, but I kept this because I liked it. Finally I had a smile I could wear openly and happily.

There’s two classmate friends in my life that I owe bigtime: one for letting me have a place to live in his house when I was unemployed and had no idea what to do with my life. The other for giving me a smile again.


by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Update. . .

Once Upon A Throwback Thursday. . .


Throwback Thursday (are we still doing that?). This is from an old Polaroid a friend probably snapped of me while I was sitting on the balcony of the apartment in Rockville (now North Bethesda!) mom and I lived in during the 60s/70s/80s. I would have been in my twenties. I would have still had the Pinto and probably was working at the Best Products just on the other side of the fence between them and the apartments.

I can tell a lot about the timeframe that this was taken because it has to be sometime in the mid 70s, before that awful couple years I wrote about yesterday. It’s in my face. I look at this and see someone still comfortable in the life he has, confident that even better times are just around the corner. A boyfriend. A good job that paid well (I was going to be a newspaper photographer). A place of my own. Everything was still possible.

As to why I had it taken…I’m not sure. This would have been before the microcomputer days, let alone the Internet, so it wouldn’t have been to post to an online profile. This is a Polaroid, I had no scanner then, and getting copies off a Polaroid wasn’t simple. So this was a one-off. I think I had it taken just to have a couple of me that I actually liked. There are a few other poses in the set but I liked this one best. Which explains why it’s a Polaroid: I could look over each one and decide if I needed another.

The problem was always that I didn’t have many of myself that I liked. By then I was well aware that I wasn’t very good looking, but every now and then I saw a good photo of me so I wasn’t overly concerned about my looks at that age. My teeth were very crooked though, and I was extremely self conscious about that. In every photo of me from that period I’m always smiling with my mouth closed. You almost can’t see the smile here, but it’s there in the corner of my mouth. That problem wouldn’t get fixed until I was in my thirties when a friend kindly financed some dental work for me and pointed me to a super good dentist.

This image is from a time before the Internet, personal computers, cable TV, and cell phones let alone smartphones. I’m pretty sure this was before 1977 and Anita Bryant’s rampage on gay civil rights in Dade County Florida. I had listen to my shortwave radio to get the result of the vote in Dade County because none of the mainstream network news companies bothered to cover it until much later. News for and about gay Americans was not fit to print in those days. If I wanted that news, and I didn’t want to drive into DC to the Lambda Rising bookstore, I had to go to a seedy adult bookstore in Wheaton and walk past racks of pretty hard core heterosexual pornography to get a copy of the Washington Blade and The Advocate. The subway wouldn’t be built out beyond the beltway in Montgomery County until 1978 when the station at Silver Spring opened. After that I could drive into Silver Spring and hop on the Metro to get to DuPont Circle and Lambda Rising. When the Twinbook Metro station opened in 1984 I could just walk from the apartment to the subway and it was a straight shot down the red line to DuPont Circle and back.

I was so happy not to have to go past those heterosexual porn magazines ever again. I mean…okay…whatever floats your boat. But…jeeze… And yet, in many quarters of American culture, not just the pulpit thumping churches, but also mainstream news media, TV, movies, and magazines, the youngster you see in this photo was regarded as a deviant threat to American society, family values, and civilization itself.

That is the world you are seeing in this image. TVs still had vacuum tubes, telephones had a wire connecting them to the wall, you got your news from the morning or afternoon newspaper, or the nightly network news broadcasts around dinnertime. Am radio played mostly music or sports, music came on vinyl LPs or cassettes, big box department stores were still a thing, and bookstores and newstands were everywhere, but you couldn’t get any gay publications in them because gay people like the kid in this photo were almost universally regarded with contempt and loathing. But the kid you see there was still pretty confident of his future. Bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to meet tomorrow. He never found a boyfriend.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Once Upon A Throwback Thursday. . .

October 26th, 2022

The Empty Zone Beyond Time

I was unemployed for an extended period of time back in the early 1980s and I remember how badly that mucked with my wake/sleep patterns. There was probably a marginal case of depression along with it that kept me from being more energetic about finding work. I did manage some odds and ends…usually Manpower type temp work for a day or so. But mostly I just sat in my room listening to music or reading. And smoking pot. All night long.

By day, if I was awake, which usually I wasn’t until mid-afternoon, I would take long winding walks around my neighborhood, or along the railroad tracks. Then it was back into my room, door closed, to smoke some pot and zone out with some music or a book. Oddly, or not given we were Baptists, mom was actually very very glad it wasn’t alcohol and said nothing about the pot. On my walks I’d often smoke a cigar because even then I didn’t want cigar smoke in the house. I knew mom would have a fit about tobacco. This was before I had my first computer.

I remember how it distressed mom to see me so aimless and sad all the time, but from my own point of view I don’t think I’ve ever been down in that dark pit so deep since. I’d broken up badly with Strike Two (he’s straight so it wasn’t his fault), and I was thinking that this was going to be my life now (romance wise it was…but that’s not what I’m thinking about now. Or the pot). It was my first extended period of time where the clock didn’t matter. And it royally screwed up my sleep/wake patterns.

I can see it happening again. The difference now though is I am at least as active as I was when I had a full time job. I’m not just sitting around the house listening to music, and last California visit I discovered, to my regret, that pot does unpleasant things to my head now so I can’t indulge like I was hoping to after retirement. Maybe it’s, as they say, the stuff is stronger now. Or it’s I’m old and my brain is full enough of a lifetime of art kid strangeness to take in any more strange. Or both. Maybe. I’ve read my Don Juan. I know what you have to do when the ally turns on you. I think I’m finally past that ingrained Baptist fear of things that make you feel good, but not so post Baptist that I can’t grimly accept the pleasures of the past are no longer mine. Life, veil of tears, and all that. Dust we were and dust we shall be…so on and so forth. Just leave it alone.

Now it’s I go to bed super early, like 7 or 8, wake around midnight, do housework, laundry, dishes, work on a project, blog, whatever, until sleep beckons around 4 or 5, then wake up again around 10 and lay in bed reading social media until nearly 11. I was taking stock and thinking that I’m not living a full day when I realized that, well, yes I am, just in random fragments.

It’s just…spooky…how it’s beginning to feel like that time back in the early 1980s when I was unemployed for like…a couple years I think it was. This was also when I stopped doing art. Somehow I roused myself out of it. I think it was I got hooked on the personal computer. When I saw my first one it grabbed my attention somehow and then I had something for my brain to engage with, that didn’t have to touch my feelings. First it was I wanted to tune in to those mysterious shortwave teletype signals. That segued into online computer bulletin boards and my first real connection with the gay community. And from there I learned programming, networking, got work, built up a resume…

You’d have had to see that kid back in the 1980s all alone nights in his room zoned out without any prospects at all to appreciate how different his life became. And how spooky it feels now, to experience that same mucking up of my sleep/wake patterns I did back then. Good thing having a house is like having a second job.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Empty Zone Beyond Time

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.

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.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Signs Of Fall – And What Felt Like Having An Office In Paradise

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


by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Biography

August 1st, 2022

A Life In Blog Posts

I’ve had my website for just over two decades now, originally to showcase my cartoons and photography, but it also included a blog, which back in the day were simple online diaries. I keep telling people that mine is a life blog, because most of what you find in the blogosphere are topical blogs, most of them political, and I get political lots on mine. But it’s a life blog. You might find me writing about “Adventures in home ownership” in my “department of random complaining” as much as pulpit thumping about prejudice toward gay folk.

I was looking at my server logs this morning and saw that someone, via a Google search (Google doesn’t let you see the search strings anymore) hit on a series of blog posts that I tagged with the keyword “Prejudice”. So I decided to see what they saw and followed the link back to my blog.

Is it unforgivably vain of me to look at the old stuff an be impressed with the quality of my writing? There’s a lot of good stuff in there going back years. But also, browsing a lot of old blog posts on the topic of homophobia really drives home how the current torrent of hate mongering toward us isn’t all that much different from previous waves of it. It’s like nothing ever changes in the American sewer. But at least I could get a few things off my chest. Beats yelling at the TV.

I don’t know how much longer I have, hopefully enough to finish A Coming Out Story. I’ll be 69 in just a few weeks and the way I’m feeling lately I’m finally at the point of admitting to myself that I’m actually old now. I’m tired all the time now. But I could hope that something of my art, something of my photography, and maybe my blog have a life after mine. On the blog, which is after all just a life blog, I’ve said things I felt needed to be said whether I had an audience for it or not, and my blog has never had a lot of traffic. But at least I got it out there and I’m happy with what I wrote.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on A Life In Blog Posts

May 18th, 2022

Yeah…I Should Probably Take All That Off My Calendar. . .

Those little tasks that remind you of the life you left behind to start a new one. The other day I deleted a bunch of reminders off my Google calendar…things like paycheck days, and logging in to certain lab and MOC machines to keep my accounts active. I suppose I could have just hidden my work calendar from view and just kept the personal calendar active, but the work calendar was as much a work diary as a reminder and I want it to be accurate. There are no more work days. At least not in the past sense.

It may seem like I waited months to do this, since I retired in February, but the fact is since I took the vacation day rollout it wasn’t official as far as Social Security or either of the retirement plans until the day of my last paycheck which was the beginning of this month. I probably could have deleted the login reminders sooner, but…well…I knew it was going to be difficult. I loved that job. But it was time to move on.

That said, I did delete the meeting reminders the day after I left the building.



by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Yeah…I Should Probably Take All That Off My Calendar. . .

May 9th, 2022

I Actually Did Have An Amazing Life

Loveless though it was…

I’m still really proud of the Rube Goldberg contraption I made out of a Raytheon Eclipse CECIL script, a DOS batch program, sftp, a bash shell script, a cron job, and three different computers to let me get email notifications whenever we lost the telemetry link to Goddard because I was the only one maintaining that link and Goddard would not allow email (completely understandable) on the JLAB machine we were using.

Six years ago I shared this award with two of my co-workers in the Integration and Test branch.


by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on I Actually Did Have An Amazing Life

February 25th, 2022

Thank You And Goodbye

Today was my last day at work. Office cleaned out, final timesheet filled out and signed, key cards turned in, RSA and DUO tokens given back. My co-workers gave me a nice sendoff last night at Pappi’s. Maybe I had one too many margaritas.

One last thing to do before I leave the paycheck life forever is say goodbye to the people who I worked alongside of at the best job ever…

Today is my last day here at Space Telescope. After 23 years and at age 68 I’m retiring, and moving on to a new stage in my life. But before I go I want to take some time to thank everyone here for making all these years some of the best in my life. I watched the TV raptly as the astronauts launched from Cape Canaveral, Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and later the Space Shuttle, and even in my wildest dreams back in those days I’d never thought I’d find a place for myself in the space program. I was raised by a single divorced mother, we didn’t have a lot of money, and expectations placed on me were low.

I want to tell you before I leave about the path that brought me to the Institute, because there are many paths that brought us here and mine speaks I think to something worth remembering about the value people can bring to their jobs, and their communities, regardless of their backgrounds, regardless of their differences, and to what makes this place so special. Sorry if this seems a bit longish.

I think the biggest debt of thanks I owe to any one person in my life is to someone I never got a chance to meet. My maternal grandfather, Albert (who I’m middle named for) built, sold and serviced radios back in the early days of radio, when KDKA was the first commercial radio station.

He suffered a sudden stroke in his mid forties when mom was still a teenager. She loved her dad very much, and while I was growing up anything she saw in me that reminded her of her dad she encouraged. So while I began showing an early interest in art and photography (my first grade teacher wrote in my file that I took “excessive interest in personal art projects”) whenever I showed an interest in radios and electronics she encouraged it, and I got radio kits, Heathkits to build, and all sorts of electronics kits to fiddle with.

I took an interest in shortwave radio because it gave me news and programs from all over the world. I would retrieve discarded radios from behind a radio/TV repair shop near where we lived, and get them working again so I could listen to the BBC, Radio Netherlands, Deutsch World, Radio Johannesburg. Once I brought an old TV home and got it working again, just as mom walked into my room and saw it. I wasn’t allowed to have a TV in my room, mom thought it would be a distraction from my schoolwork. But I knew if I could say the magic words (“I fixed it”) she’d let me keep it.

I bought my first computer, a little Commodore C64, because I saw a kit for it that let you pick up radio teletype transmissions, and also to play video games which were just then becoming a thing. The Commodore’s user interface was its Basic interpreter (which was written by Microsoft for Commodore), and experimenting with that I began to learn programming.

When the first IBM PC came out I was fascinated by it, but the cost of one was way beyond my reach. But one day I was walking around a HAM Fest at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, looking for vacuum tubes for a radio I was working on, I saw a booth that was selling the parts to build a PC compatible. The HAMS were using them for radio teletype. I saw I could buy the parts one piece at a time as I could afford it, which I did, and eventually got my first PC running. I remember staring at it in my room after I booted it up, feeling suddenly a bit intimidated by it, and thinking to myself that it was way more power than I’d ever need.

I bought a modem and started exploring the early online world. Some of the early modem programs allowed you to write scripts for automating connecting and downloading content, which was useful back when your favorite bulletin boards were single line and often busy. I could start off a program and go do something else while the computer tried to connect and get me the latest messages and upload some of mine. I also began experimenting with a copy of Microsoft Quick Basic, and later a copy of their professional development kit which came with the first iteration of their Access database engine. I wrote my own contact manager and calendar application, and made it work with the serial port and modem so I could remote log into it.

Around that time I discovered G.L.I.B.,the Gay and Lesbian Information Bureau bulletin board, created by two gay men as a news and information resource for the community. I’d come out to myself back in high school, but in 1971/72 there were no resources for gay teens and the only place I knew of was a seedy bar down in Georgetown, so finding a safe place to meet and chat with other gay folk who were also techno nerds like me felt like a godsend and I quickly became an active volunteer in the board’s maintenance.

I wrote programs to maintain the user list and send out notices. I managed the calendar of events which we copied from the local gay paper, The Washington Blade. I paid particular attention to the board news section as it was the heart of our mission. One of our members worked for a wire service and he would send me a digest of gay related wire service news items. This was a time when most newspapers barely touched on anything related to our existence. When Anita Bryant went on a warpath in Dade County Florida against an anti discrimination ordinance, I had to find out it had been repealed by listening to a BBC shortwave broadcast because none of the TV news programs said anything about it. I wrote a program to download his news digest, split it out into the individual news items, format them correctly for the BBS software we used, then uploaded them along with a new menu with all the new news items in it.

I was still trying to make a living at my arts then, on the assumption that as long as I had no college degree I would never be hired as a programmer, even though I was getting pretty good at it. I had a few photography gigs for local newspapers but the pay was miniscule. I was earning a small living as an architectural model maker, but the savings and loan scandal in the mid 80s bankrupted the architects I did work for. So I was back to doing Manpower jobs and mowing lawns to make ends meet. I asked the BBS users for help. One of the men who ran the system also had a business teaching classes on the dedicated work processors of the time, and he hired me part time to help him with other work.

I wrote him a membership management system for a gay political group, using Basic, Word Perfect and dBase 4 (working with dBase for I learned how documentation will occasionally lie through its teeth). The system could query the database for new members and generate welcome letters, run monthly queries for members who needed to renew and generate renewal letters, and had a simple menu user interface. The system would take the comma delimited data file dBase generated and reformatted it to Word Perfect’s mail merge format, and send the letters right to the printer

This gave me enough of a resume that when a friend who worked for a contract agency told me Baltimore Gas and Electric was looking for someone who knew Microsoft Basic to work on their Work Measurement System, that I was able to go through the interview process and get the job. I worked for BG&E for three years, delivering an assortment of programs that queried their databases to generate reports for management. That eventually became my stock in trade, along with writing installation kits.

After BG&E I wrote business software for AT&T, Becton-Dickenson, Litton Amecom, Zenica Pharmaceuticals, and several small insurance companies. I still did not have my degree, but my resume was getting pretty big. And with each new contract I gained a level of experience working in different software and hardware environments.

While working for one of the insurance companies, a recruiter at the agency I was working for asked me if I was interested in a part time side job. Not really interested since my plate was pretty full at the time, I asked where. “The Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.” he says, “They operate the Hubble Space Telescope.” Well he didn’t need to ask me twice.

I started work here, as a full time contractor, Thanksgiving week 1998, on the new Grant Management System, code named GATOR. Another business application, which was right up my alley. After a year as a contractor I was given the opportunity to come on board as AURA staff. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

At that time we distributed a Java application to our community, any one of which might be using Microsoft, Apple, SunOS, or Linux. So eventually I was tasked with building a test center we could use to debug problem reports from the community, regardless of what they were running our application on. That first test center was made from a lot of spare parts, again, something I had experience with since by then I’d built several generations of my own household computers from parts. That led to my joining the Integration and Test branch, which eventually led to my working on JWST, the ACTLab, the I&T Lab, and eventually the MOC itself.

And so the kid with low expectations, who watched the first astronauts going into space, found himself one day participating in JWST end to end tests, doing test conductor work, and speaking over the NASA voice loop to outposts on the deep space network. And still writing business software, because science needs business software too. The last major one I turned in was a build report for the Roman Space Telescope project.

I had the job offer letter I got in December 1999 framed and it’s on my den wall at home, along with our group pictures with the astronauts and my awards. There is also a little DayTimer page there, with a note on it to call Lee Hurt about work at Space Telescope.

The Institute opened doors for me, gave me a chance to grow professionally and discover potential within myself that I never knew I had, until I was given the chance. I have never felt safer, or more valued as a coworker anywhere else.

To the other LGBT folk who are new here, let me just say my lived experience here is this place takes diversity seriously. You are safe here, and you are valued.

And to all of you who are new here: you will love working here, and you will be proud of the work you do.

To the rest of you…thank you so much for making these the most wonderful years of my life. I am looking forward to all the great science to come from JWST and Roman. Take care. Love.

-Bruce Albert Garrett

So for 50+ years of my 68, I’ve been tied in one way or another to working for a paycheck. And now suddenly I am not tied to one.

I’ve been told to watch out for depression now that I’m disconnected from the work world. But the identity I’ve built for myself around the work I do has always been flexible out of necessity. There are two parts to me: the techno nerd and the art kid. For decades I’ve made a good living as a software and computer systems engineer. But there’s that other side, I paint, I draw, I do photography, I write stories.

That was the life I was looking toward when I was young. It is how I’ve always seen myself. I have this techno nerd side of me, but basically I am an artist.

But it was don’t quit your day job with me, because I’m so terrible at self promotion, and I never had that single minded focus on one thing, which is what you need to make a living at it. There’s the drafting table, the painter’s easel, the cameras and the darkroom. Stephen Fry said that we are not nouns, we are verbs. I don’t know about everyone, but that is definitely me, and as starving artist wasn’t all that appealing I did what I could for a paycheck, and tried to save time for my artwork. In retrospect maybe I should have gone all in on it, but what eventually Did happen was I got the best job in the world and stuck with it for 23 years.

Now I’m retired. Now I can have that other life without worry about the next paycheck, the one that was always been there in the background, the one I looked toward when I was young.

It got off to a pretty good start already. A couple co-workers came for a visit and I showed them around the house and the art room and one of them asked for a print of something I’d done. That lifted me up as much as watching James Webb launch last Christmas. I don’t know that I’ll ever make any money at it, or gain any recognition beyond this website and some family and friends. But the reason I can call myself an artist without any feelings of pretense after all this time is I know that I’m not doing it for the recognition. Recognition would be nice, it would be wonderful, but I do it because I have to get it out of me. And if you think that’s pretentious you don’t know and I don’t care. Everyone who does this, recognized or not, knows exactly how that is.

Now I can have that life. It starts today.


by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Thank You And Goodbye

February 13th, 2022

That Magic Feeling

Yesterday I entered the two week period prior to retirement, where everything is happening according to a set number of steps. You can no longer take any time off, because payroll wants a clean slate to do the final payouts on. There are steps for turning in equipment, and various key cards. Also I have to make sure the people who will be taking on my rolls (I had many) are fully trained and my system accounts are migrated over to them.

It actually began a few days ago, when I had to enter this in the IT support system…

I had finished up a pre-departure interview with HR and was instructed to start this process in the system. There are still things to tidy up, mostly equipment related things and documents to sign and pass around. But…here goes. As of now I am on the two week glide path.

When I leave the building as a retiree, I know what I’ll be thinking…

Monday morning, turning back
Yellow lorry slow, nowhere to go
But oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go
Oh, that magic feeling
Nowhere to go, nowhere to go…

Those lines from the Beatles You Never Give Me Your Money always played in my mind whenever I was laid off, fired (hair too long, incorrect sexual orientation) or quit (I hate this job I can do better somewhere else). It’s that initially disorienting sensation of suddenly not being on the clock anymore…which you are even on your time off because then the back to work clock is ticking. The clock is always ticking. And then suddenly it isn’t, and you feel a bit weightless. It’s a thrilling, scary, mysterious feeling. This will be the first time I experience it and I’m leaving on a high note.

I loved this job, absolutely loved it. But I can feel my time on this earth winding down now, and it’s time to move on.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on That Magic Feeling

January 29th, 2022

Mirror, Mirror…

It’s about time I think, to be breathing a sigh of relief and letting the stress of the past several months slide off my shoulders. The entire process of launching and deploying the James Webb Space Telescope terrified me, but everything about the launch and deployment happened without a hitch. It was a Mary Poppins launch…practically perfect in every way! The surprising immediate deployment of the solar array, only possible if the launch was absolutely spot on perfect, turned out to have been a sign that the rest of it was going to be perfect too. But that entire process terrified me. If any One thing had gone wrong we would not have a telescope, and billions of dollars, and the hopes and dreams of astronomers all over the world would have gone down the tubes. But not only did nothing go wrong, it all went so well that they’re estimating we could be good, fuel wise, for at least twenty years, not just the ten that was planned for.

And now…now…it’s time for me to say goodbye to this part of my life. I set myself a goal of seeing JWST through to launch. Now that it’s happened, and we’re all good, I’m just a few weeks from retiring. I can leave on a high note. The plan initially was to retire at the end of December 2021, but launch delays pushed that back to January, and then I was asked to stay another month since January was going to be busy for everyone with the tasks of getting JWST deployed and ready for commissioning. It’s time for me to move on.

I’m 68 years old now, two years past a heart attack and feeling my age. I want to have at least some retirement time to do other things with my life before the big sleep. Make some art, explore some highways, walk along some beaches, look at the stars, gaze at some new horizons…while I still can. I’m not sure how I can get 50+ years of working for a paycheck to slide off my shoulders, but I’ll give it my best shot. 23 years of that I’ve worked at the Space Telescope Science Institute, loving almost every minute of immersion in an environment of science and exploration. So many memories to take with me.

Like this one…

The photo below was taken from the observation deck at Goddard, where the JWST science half with the big mirror had been assembled and tested and was being readied for its trip to Houston for testing in the big Apollo vacuum chamber back in March 2017. Those of us working on the project were invited to see the telescope for it’s last viewing before it got packed off to Houston. I’d been to Goddard many times prior to this, getting our test servers approved for connecting to the Goddard network, and doing end to end network testing between Goddard and Northrop Grumman in the backup MOC, but it was the first time I was able to actually see the telescope we’d all been working on.

So there I was, snapping off a bunch of shots of that huge mirror when I realized…that if I positioned myself just…so…

Heh…  Yeah, this was before I started wearing a beard. Here’s another shot that gives you a better sense of scale…

That guy in the orange Sierra Designs mountain parka holding his cell phone up to take a picture is me. That’s my Goddard badge around my neck. I’ll know my time with the Institute is over when they ask me to hand it and all my other badges back…probably while I’m signing the paperwork on my retiring.


by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Mirror, Mirror…

December 26th, 2021

We Went To Space To Discover The Universe And We Discovered Ourselves

That’s a paraphrase of something Neil deGrasse Tyson once said about going to the moon. We went to the Moon, and discovered the Earth. What I’ve learned from 23+ years working at the Space Telescope Science Institute, first on the Hubble Space Telescope grant management system, and then JWST integration and test, is how deeply human that desire is to know more about the cosmos. All the tribes of the Earth share it. And doing that work not only gives us a better understanding of the universe, but also of each other. 

Webb launched from the European Spaceport in French Guiana. It’s a cooperative project between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). The morning of the launch I was at home watching the event on NASA TV, streamed through my Roku box. As we got down to the final minutes of the countdown, I was hearing NASA commentary in English, but the mission operation center in Kourou is run by the French, and all the call outs I was used to hearing from Cape Canaveral, I was hearing now in French. I don’t know much of any French, and yet I could follow along because I knew the drill; I’d watched this over and over and over again since the first Mercury astronauts went up. Hearing it in French for the first time, it struck me how Webb was a human project.

For a moment we were all earthlings with a common purpose. I’d heard that said over and over during Apollo, and I could see the truth of it, but my reference back then was still firmly planted in the United States. This was a European launch. It was their baby, with ours on top of it. I was watching it happen from the European point of view. But even our baby on top of that rocket, the telescope itself, was a project of many different countries. And I knew that for a fact, because for the past couple decades I’d been living it at the Institute.

I was raised by a single divorced mother and made my way there by way of restoring shortwave radios and building my own computer from parts I got at a HAM Fest. I taught myself how to program it, and that path eventually led to my becoming a software developer, and eventually to the Institute. And there I was working side by side with scientists, astronomers, computer geeks with multiple college degrees in computer science. But also facilities people, AV nerds, public outreach specialists. Many people, from many walks of life worked on this thing. I could walk the hallways and hear English spoken, but also other languages. We had astronomers from all over the globe working there. And we’re located on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, where kids from all over the world come to learn. Practically every human tribe on Earth had a hand in the work we do.

For two decades I have been surrounded by this culture, this deeply human culture of science and exploration. It has kept me sane through the past several years more than I knew.

And so yesterday morning was a very spiritually uplifting event. Something I really needed to see in this horrible time of rising fascism, conspiracy theory kookery, anti-science nuttiness. From all walks of life and every corner of the Earth we came together and put a new instrument up into space because we wanted to know more about the universe that we were born to. I got back my view of the human status. We can do good things. We can make progress. 

We went into space, and we discovered ourselves.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on We Went To Space To Discover The Universe And We Discovered Ourselves

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