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Yet Another "5 Things" Blog

Posted by tball on January 16, 2007 at 11:55 AM PST

Here I was hoping to avoid participating in the "5 Things" blog game, but then Greg tagged me and sent an email vaguely warning against breaking the chain. So here goes:

  1. I never had a formal university education (just college courses whenever they look interesting). Although my high school was rated in the nation's top-ten public schools, their guidance counselors ... how to put this delicately ... sucked, perhaps because it was so easy for their college-track students to qualify for the top colleges. My strengths were in math and English, and was told that since people with advanced English degrees have few career prospects (a common question asked by humanities graduates is "And do you want fries with that?"), my two best job choices were to either join the NSA or become an actuary for the insurance industry. As a long-haired hippy then (we didn't call ourselves hippies, though), neither becoming a government spook nor spending my life calculating when people will die sounded very appealing. If only someone had clued me into how the University of Illinois' math department was starting to teach programming (later creating the first graphical web browser), my life would have taken a much different turn.

  2. I was a union steelworker. After finishing high school and before music paid the bills, I worked for a couple of years at AMSCO in Chicago Heights, Illinois, first as a grinder and then finished an apprenticeship as a maintenance mechanic and electrician. This wasn't some clean steel-slitting operation, but a down-and-dirty foundry specializing in very big castings. (AMSCO in the USA no longer does cast steel, but you can see the sort of pieces we created on the AMSCO Cast Products (Canada) site.) After you have worked here, no programming job can be considered real work.

  3. My first job was as a professional boy soprano (I'm a baritone now). Yes, back eons ago (the early sixties) it was politically-correct for churches to have all-male choirs, with boys singing the soprano and alto parts. At the peak of the baby-boom there were enough candidates that you had to try out for the best choirs and be both talented and dedicated to be accepted.
    St. Mark's Church had an exceptional choir in those days, and for some reason I made the cut. It was hard work, in part because the boys had to memorize all of our music; my guess is that there were too many delays getting twenty boys' sheet music organized during church service. It was great training, however.

    Professional? Yes, actually: because the boys practiced Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons (Thursday evening and Sunday morning practice for the full choir) we were paid anywhere from $1.50-$3.00 a month based on attendance and seniority. That may not seem like much ("mouse nuts", as they said in the foundry), but that is equivalent to $12-$20 in today's dollars. Nice pocket change for a nine year old back then.

    I was part of the choir for two years, but timed that tenure poorly: a year before I joined they recorded a record album, and the year after I left they performed a concert tour in Europe. Still, the most spiritual moment I've ever had was hitting the high-A in Handel's Hallelujah Chorus with a thirty-two foot pipe organ blasting behind me on Easter morning.

  4. I was a semi-professional singer and bass player in a touring rock band based in Denver, Colorado. I say "semi" because we never made much money after our expenses, but it was mostly a full-time commitment. This was in the mid-seventies when "accoustic rock" became very popular, especially in the western states. Three-part tight harmonies with a mix of accoustic and electric instruments; although much of our material was original, we were in a similar genre as the early Eagles and Pure Prairie League. BTW, it's quite mentally challenging to sing lead while playing a counterpoint bass part. I think learning to manage two distinct thought processes concurrently helped develop my multi-threading coding skills later.

  5. I have an evil twin. You'd think having an unusual name, a professional focus on static analysis tools, singing in a choir and playing bass guitar would define me as a unique individual, but Microsoft and Sun each employ such "individuals". We had dinner together awhile back and tball(2) turned out to be a nice guy, so he's really only evil by association. However, his first research job was with Bell Labs, whose parent company back then had a logo that looked suspiciously like the Death Star -- so maybe the soap operas are on to something with all their evil twin plots.

That's five things, but now comes the harder part: naming five others to tag. Maybe this will get my AWT/Swing partner-in-crime Amy Fowler to start blogging again, and I'd like to hear from James Gosling, Carl Quinn, Scott Violet and Ruth Kusterer. There, my first action list item for the new year is finished.

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