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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 23rd, 2022

Notes On Transitioning To Another Life…(continued)

Cleaning out your office is a bit of a chore when you’ve occupied a little out of the way corner of your building for a decade that you’ve basically made a home away from home. Apple computer, Windows computer, stand up/sit down desk, coffee maker, microwave, refrigerator, bookshelves, spare parts drawer, file cabinets, coat hanger…

…and window.

 

I’m taking the window with me.

 

 

(That’s already a partially cleaned out office you’re seeing there. I had a ton of stuff on my walls…awards, anniversary Hubble photos, some of my cartoons and photography, that I’ve already taken home.)

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

February 22nd, 2022

Notes On Transitioning To Another Life…(continued)

I reckon that yesterday afternoon, late, I had my first moment of wow I’m really saying goodbye to everything sads. Management wants me to be in the office tomorrow through Friday. So after I shut down the office laptop for the night, just now I packed it up into the backpack I use to shuttle it back and forth to the office. And while doing that I realized that this was the last trip for that laptop. It is not coming back to the house again. Ever.

It kinda hit me hard. I guess because I really loved my job, and I’m really proud of the work I did there. But…it’s time.

I’ll have to repurpose that backpack.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Notes On Transitioning To Another Life…(continued)

February 21st, 2022

Notes On Transitioning To Another Life…(continued)

Today is Monday. After today I won’t have to care about Mondays anymore. I still really have no idea what that will be like.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Notes On Transitioning To Another Life…(continued)

February 19th, 2022

Notes On Transitioning To Another Life…(continued)

And now I am in the first day of my last weekend on the clock. Next weekend it won’t matter that the Monday following Sunday is a back to work day. That is going to feel very strange for a while.

Will weekends still matter anymore? Weekdays? Yes…because I will still have to keep commuter traffic in mind whenever I want to drive anywhere.

Taking the car to the mechanic’s for routine service will be a lot nicer when I can do it any day of the week and not have to think about taking time off from work. Going to the Bank…going to the doctor…the hair stylist…the movies…buying groceries hours when there aren’t a lot of people at the store…just taking drives in the country for the hell of it…road trips whenever I feel like it…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Notes On Transitioning To Another Life…(continued)

February 16th, 2022

Notes On Transitioning To Another Life…

I’m filling out my timesheet, and then I suddenly realize that it’s the last timesheet I will ever have to fill out…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Notes On Transitioning To Another Life…

January 21st, 2022

Getting Closer To The Last Day Of My Paycheck Life

Sort of. I doubt I’ll simply give up my trade altogether. Maybe I’ll take on some part-time temp IT contractor work now and then for some extra bucks.

Maybe.

Maybe sell some artwork now and then. Maybe get some photography gigs here and there.

Maybe.

In the meantime as the reality of all this sets in, I’m trying to get myself into a mindset of seeing myself as a retiree. I’m sitting right now in my kitchen typing this out on one of my laptops, and trying to think of this moment as one that has no obligations on my time, other than what I choose to do with it. It’s not quite as simple as all that though. But to the degree I can manage it, it feels pretty good. The bright sunshiny day it is outside now is probably helping with the mood. But disentangling myself from the paycheck life isn’t going to happen overnight. I kinda expected that. Fifty years and a tad of working for a paycheck most days doesn’t lift off your shoulders overnight.

At the beginning of each year, the Institute gives us three “discretionary” days off we can use for whichever holidays we observe that the Institute officially does not. These discretionary days do not roll over and are not counted in your post retirement vacation time roll-out or cash out depending on which you decide to take. As I am retiring at the end of February (actually at the end of the last February pay period), I am using my three new discretionary days now, before they simply disappear, by taking three Fridays off this month.

I was out buying groceries this morning. I might go to one of my favorite bars in York later. Plus I have some household cable laying I want to get done. Today is mine to spend as I wish. I’m trying to imagine this as how it will feel to be retired, and have my time to myself. Something I’ve begun to see is that retired or not, I’ll still have to figure in what day of the week it is to plan a drive anywhere, because of commuter traffic.

And all morning long I kept feeling this uneasy guilty feeling like I’m skipping school somehow. It’s a workday. I’m supposed to be working, not out and about.

I suspect this feeling won’t be going away anytime soon. But that’s okay. I’ve been a good little Mouseketeer for so long it’s time I gave myself permission to be a bad boy. Yeah, I’m skipping school today. Catch me if you can.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Getting Closer To The Last Day Of My Paycheck Life

June 19th, 2021

When Which Day Of The Week It Is Stops Mattering

Since I was a schoolboy the days of the week always meant something. There is as significance in the name of the day. Monday-Friday are work days. Monday is the dreary start of the work week. Friday is the end of it. Then comes the weekend. Woo Hoo! Friday happy hour!!! What happens when none of it matters for anything in particular? There is no work week. Every day is the weekend. How does that even work?

Could be nice to find out. But I have a hunch it’ll take years before I get comfortable with it. I’ll be going to meetings in my dreams, and missing deadlines for the rest of my life. Some nights I’m still in my awful junior high school. I haven’t studied for the test and I forgot to put my clothes on. Retirement is going to be like that isn’t it.

I’m retiring at the end of this year. It’s a big step but I am really beginning to feel my age now. There’s a Hemingway quote about going broke that maps pretty well to how it is to get old: gradually, and then suddenly. I can feel it now. The heart attack happened a couple years ago, and a year after that I had another heart “event” but that’s not it. It’s the fatigue I’m feeling now practically all the time. Don Juan was absolutely right about the forth foe. So I decided to take the next step and sometime before years end apply for my social security benefit, and then take leave of the Institute after 23 years working there. The plan is to spend the last years of my life working more on my artwork and photography, maybe finish a couple stories I’ve worked on. Maybe even get some of it published.

I hope not to get dragged back into computer work…I actually enjoy programming but it’s not as close to my heart and soul as the artwork. I’m going to get shed of a ton of computer books when I retire. I kept so many books because it’s a resource I might need and because it was my profession for the last 35 years. I won’t need my computers for work anymore, but I use them heavily for my artwork these days so there is no getting rid of those. The money software engineering made me is why I can retire pretty comfortably now, if not fabulously. But it’s time to move on. For a variety of reasons I never pursued my artistic interests professionally, and so I never had enough time to spend on it.  It’s going to feel wonderful to finally have all the time I want.

And…yeah…I’ll probably still have to keep paying attention to which day of the week it is, because that’s how the world works. I need to go to the store…is today a rush hour day…maybe I should wait a while…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on When Which Day Of The Week It Is Stops Mattering

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