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Math, Chemistry, Physics and Biology

Image, The Tunnel to the Singularity-X3, @ Trey Ratcliff

Image, The Tunnel to the Singularity-X3, ©Trey Ratcliff

Math, Chemistry, Physics and Biology. Those were my favorite subjects in school. In the schools I attended in Antigua and St. Vincent these subjects are taught simultaneously from Form 3 to Form 5 ( the equivalent of grades 10 through 12). I loved these four subjects and did very well at them. For me these four subjects are all a continuum of the same thing. Math helps me solve the physics problems. Physics helps me understand the molecular world of chemistry. Chemistry helps me understand the cellular world of biology. It’s all just a way to understand the natural world around me.

The best year of my high school life was when I met a red-headed Canadian boy, Andy Williams, while attending St. Joseph’s Academy in St. John’s, Antigua. Andy encouraged my love of science and math. Together we used our maths skills to created two unique encoding methods for handwriting. We knew the codes so well, that much to the chagrin of our English teacher, we could read and write in our special language as quickly as we could in English. We couldn’t wait for the school day to end so that we could go explore the natural world. Most of our note passing was about solutions to problems we were working on. I still make use of the special symbols – the one I created for my name — when I want to leave a mark on drinking glasses.

We used our math and physics skills to create and test designs for various paper airplanes. We spent countless hours folding paper — technically we were crafting origami — and either tossing it into air or firing it from a rubber band.

My Dad bought me my first aquarium when I was about 12 years old. It was something I wanted very much. I loved observing the natural world and I spent a lot of time learning about fish and ecosystems. Andy and I took it to another level when we decided to crossbreed some of the common varieties. We learned about Gregor Mendel and genetics and heredity. We bought some fish, learned about their reproductive cycle and by the end of a summer had crossbred several varieties of platies1, guppies2, mollies3 and swordtails4.

The USA is too litigious a country so what I’m about to write won’t be understand by Americans. Some of you will think this kind of knowledge is dangerous. I did well in chemistry, especially organic chemistry. I learned how to make small explosives. I lived on a volcanic island. Sulfur and carbon and other chemical compounds were not a tightly controlled as they are in the USA. We were free to experiment and try different things out. I think at one point I figured out how to make explosives from potatoes and charcoal. I know that this sounds dangerous too many of you reading this. Without being free to experiment, science students will see the subject as boring. This is one reason science continues to decline as an area of study in the USA. Imagine being taught how to play a basketball game but never being allowed out on the court to play?

My love of these sciences led me to electronics and computers. If you talk to my Dad, he will tell you that as a young man, I was constantly taking things apart, sometimes new things. Like my Dad’s shortwave radio. I took that apart and used the parts to create a radio transmitter. Station KLW. With no Radio Shack on the island, taking apart electronics was the only way to get parts for my circuits. That meant learning to identify transistors and resistor values by sight.

When I finished high school I went off to college to study physics and computer science. I have degrees in Physics, Electrical Engineering with a minor in Mathematics. If I had taken just a few more courses I would have had a major in Maths. The computer science idea was dropped after I realized it meant sitting in front of a screen for hours at a time. What a fracking mistake that was. I was always better at the code, especially when it was applied to controlling a physical device (like a micro-controller).

From a career standpoint, none of these subjects are relevant to what I do. By the time I had finished my graduate degree in Electrical Engineering, many engineering jobs were being sent overseas. I worked at David Sarnoff Research Center center for two years. Just after I left in 1997, Sarnoff had major layoffs. AT&T Bell Labs disintegrated. Most of the people I have worked with in my 15 years working in IT are former engineers and scientist from Sarnoff and Bell Labs.

None of this matters today. I no longer create codes. I don’t have a fish tank. Basic chemistry is illegal in the USA. I only use Maths when doing my taxes.

Trepidation

IMG_2947.JPGImage by :. Apple iPhone 6 (4.15mm, f/2.2, 1/295 sec, ISO32)

Tell us a story about a time when you were scared to act.John Saddington

Last week I interviewed for a position at a Japanese securities firm in Manhattan. My buddy had just started on as the Director of IT Security and wanted to build out his team. He contacted me on a Wednesday and offered me the opportunity to interview on Friday.

Alarm bells were going off in my head. You don’t want to commute to Manhattan. Standing on the train platform is painful in the chill of winter and unpleasant and exhausting in the humidity of summer. I would have to wear a suit and tie. “Are you sure?”, my inner voice screamed. I accepted the offer to interview.

“You’ll take the job if they offer it, right?”, my buddy asked just before we hung up.

“Sure”, I said. Words, I’d later regret.

I arrived and was interview by the Director of IT for about 30 minutes. Then I met with my friend and one of his direct reports. The direct report, a man with a technical background and work experience similar to mind, was leaving for another position closer to his home. Friday was his last day.

More alarm bells. He’s leaving, Khurt. You won’d have anyone to help you through the transition. You’re screwed.

After lunch I had my interview with the Chief Information Officer. I was grilled and then given one of those Google style interview questions. “If I was contracted to wash the windows of the company’s office in Manhattan how would I figure out what to charge?”. The pit in my stomach grew and I pushed through it.

The CIO stepped out and I waited about fifteen minutes before my buddy came back in. “You got the job. HR is finalizing the paper work.” He was excited. I was anxious. And then I made a mistake.

The Director of HR walked in and laid out the details of the package — salary, bonus, action, healthcare and other benefits. I was transfixed. I’m not sure why I signed the paper work. A feeling of loyalty to my friend? Why didn’t I just thank them, ask for the weekend to consider the package and then make a decision. No, not me. I signed the paper work, went uptown to be finger printed and went to watch a really bad movie.

My wife grilled me when I got home. “Are you sure about this? You don’t like traveling to Manhattan. You’re going to have to get up an hour earlier every day and take a train. You’re not going to be home until much later.”. I knew the answer to all those things. The thing screaming inside me was telling me the answers. I ignored it.

The office where I consult was closed on Monday. I drew up a resignation letter and send it off to the contracting company. I’d let them know first. On Tuesday, just after telling the client, I received a phone call from the contractor. “What can we offer you to stay on the project?”

This isn’t what I had expected. I had thought that for sure they would wish me well and that would be that. What do I want? The previous year I had asked for an increase in the hourly billing rate. The answer was no. But now? That was on the table. I negotiated a 21% increase.

Ok now what? This was serious. This increase was enough to reduce the attractiveness of the Manhattan package. I sat down, weighed the pros and cons, filled a spreadsheet full of numbers, and came to a decision. I wouldn’t take the job in Manhattan. It didn’t make sense.

Now I had to make a very painful phone call. I delayed. I called my brother. I talked to my wife’s brother-in-law. How do you tell someone who helped you get a job, who you promised you’d take the position, who stood there as you signed the paper work, that you were changing your mind?

Simple. You just do it. You push past the fear of what they might think of you. You push past the pain of what the other person might be going though. You make the call. You say the unpleasant words that need to be said. Because it has to be done.

The Challenges Of Making The Triggertrap

Triggertrap CEO Haje Jan Kamps has written a lengthy, full disclosure, piece about the good and the bad of working on the Ada project.

Looking back at it now, I have literally no idea how we thought we were going to deliver on time. Even though we already successfully delivered one Kickstarter project, for Triggertrap v1, (it was delivered around 14 months after the end of the Kickstarter campaign ended?—?around 7 months behind schedule), we figured we’d learned our lessons. We were veterans now! We know how to prototype, and how to turn our prototypes into serial-produced electronics, manufactured in China.

So, what happened?Haje Jan Kamps

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