Start-up Anxieties

Some people are natural self-promoters.  When I try to celebrate my talents, it feels like hubris.  Life’s lessons in humility almost always start with hubris and finish with crow pie.  How then, can I show the world what I am capable of doing?  I am confident that I have rare skills; my challenge has been to apply them in a marketplace.  I am chiefly apprehensive about commoditizing myself, my time, and reducing good will into cash.  This isn’t completely out of some sense of altruism.  I don’t want to be relegated, or equivocated.  I feel supernatural when I am creating, it separates us not so much from the animals, but for the time being, it separates us from the machines.  In the past, I have always fixed computers for free, in an amateurish hope it would pay itself forward.  Now, repair is just a part of what I am uniquely suited to do, which is to serve justice among other ends, and in ways that are not trivial.  Working for the government distracted my energies; I am working to direct my talents, not traffic.

When a musician “plays” an instrument, it extends their will and it becomes a part of the whole, of them.  The computer keyboard is the only interface I have of this likeness.  I’m not a programmer, though I can muddle through some problems, I am chiefly a user.  When I was in Computer Science at Virginia Tech, it was called a super user, of benefit primarily only in the software lifecycle, now as I am gearing up for research it is more frequently referred to as a “package user,” primarily the Unix variant.  I am not a super user in Unix, and by some association, I am not a mac super user.  I am a citizen of windows, a long time native.  I have been indoctrinated here such that arcane hotkeys are as natural as the shift key, not gestures, not the command key.  I sometimes think them when speaking, and my fingers move in my pockets.

I long for a more complete integration and augmentation of my will and imagination and curiosity.  My memory is too random, too fleeting, and too precious.  I want NAS, SAN, I want RAID, I want what machines have and to grasp it with more than my clumsy fingers, my whole heart.

Would you want this man to fix your computer? I think so, absolutely.  Machines are a labor of love and I have a passion.  I can talk to normal people too.  The scene from Office Space, “I talk to the goddamn customers so the engineers don’t have to” comes to mind.  A great deal of computer troubles can be reduced to a vernacular understanding of the language of their use.  Transcending this difference between what is possible and desirable is the essence of development, of problem-solving and innovation.

My personality type is an ENTP, I am an inventor, like Walt Disney and Steve Jobs.  My mind, as far as agrarian society is concerned, is fundamentally broken.  I cannot see parts from their whole the same way as my wife or many people.  Most people look at a face or a piece of music the same way I do larger ideas; a single note, or a nose is meaningless, but in concert with the whole they are apparent.  I have strange habits of taking things apart and putting unrelated pieces back together.  Some minor older examples include a car battery in a UPS, or copper plumbing for a flashlight, developed color film for an IR filter to a night vision driving system.  At a hardware store, I get excited about what some things could be cannibalized to form.

At this point in my life, I am more than a little aware about how I may not fit in with the rest of society.  I have acquiesced to my nature.  As a police officer it gave a great deal of advantage over people’s narrowly formed expectations about officers.  After the academy indoctrination had settled a bit I felt like I had a comfortable persona somewhere in realm of “capable social awkwardness” which must have been confusing for people to deal with.  Probably the most absurd example, “You can’t arrest me, I’m in a master’s program!”, “Yes, I can.  I already have my masters.”  I am very grateful for my opportunity to work with other police officers, because otherwise I never would have appreciated the integrity and character of the men and women in law enforcement.  People who, from their socks to the (last clean) shirt they wore, unhesitatingly gave completely.

Law enforcement, to my friends, was an odd social experiment.  I am small, but that doesn’t seem odd to me, I am fit and fast.  It’s always been that way!  Being “myself” in uniform allowed me to make some advantage of what was probably my greatest weakness as an officer; my voice.  People are obviously irrational about violence, and maybe being small has taught me about that.  A small man with a hammer has about the same disadvantage as a big man with a hammer.  I would never assume that anyone with a hammer couldn’t hurt me and every fist is a hammer.  Some size differential is insurmountable (and so is Bruce Lee skill).  Being underestimated is such a sublimely tactical advantage that armies will go to great effort to achieve it, when you’re small you get it for free.

The really “odd” part is my complete disinterest with convention, status and hierarchy.  I can’t really say that “I got” that part when I signed up.  I was motivated by “18 undergraduate credit hours of criminal justice coursework” for free, and my environmental ethics.  I had spent a few years selling and installing photovoltaic panels and my garage now has a 6KW array.  Needless to say, the Industrial era administrative Division of Natural Resources and I were only superficially aligned in priorities.  I had only heard the rumor of one game warden in the state who considered himself a conservationist or naturalist.  The DNR is primarily preoccupied with the extraction of revenue from the public commons, the commoditization of cute furry critters much more so than preservation, maintenance or reduction of environmental waste and hazard.

I was a hound dog for “open dumps” and illegal disposal of solid waste, which fully met my aspirations and ambitions as a conservation officer.  I had a jeep, binoculars, three guns and a county to explore.  At the barracks, I had some old personal computers where I would map them on GPS, as well as the names and addresses I collected for prima facia evidence (this pretty much turns the innocent until proven guilty upside down). Organizationally, the DNR is technologically very old fashioned, no computers and all paper.  The most desired vehicles were very old jeeps which outperformed the newer models considered to be glorified station wagons.  I also didn’t mind teaching hunter’s education and boating safety courses.  Had it not been for the uniform, the irony would have been palpable as neither of these are domains of expertise or even familiarity.  Boating patrols were fun too, but exhausting, as essentially an over-dressed land lubber.  I left the DNR very reluctantly to be 100 miles closer to home and family.

I transferred into WVU. I say “transferred” but they are completely separate agencies.  The concept of jurisdiction is complex in law enforcement.  My jurisdiction as a CO was really enormous by comparison at WVU which would include islands separated by only semi-enforceable seas.  My world view too collapsed inward, instead of exploring the state, I had a nearly unfettered access to the WVU campus.  This shrunk further when I was assigned to the medical school, the enormous Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center.  Life generally improved there after I adjusted to feeling like a rat in a large cage with poor radio reception.  I can’t say I was very happy with my new career until I found computer forensics.  I made what was perhaps my first significant contribution to another person’s life as the result of a computer investigation and arrest.  And that felt very very good.

I worked 1 and a half jobs just to get that feeling again.  I worked my normal shift and then I would work for free over at the State Police electronic crime lab until there was a flood of confiscated cell phones from WVU in queue for me.  Organizationally, this was unwinnable.  I had several masters who were only marginally fluent enough to match with their desires with reality.  USB is 480 mb/s at best.  A 32gb iPhone is going to take a long time (9hrs?) to copy/image.  I still had to answer calls, which were relatively infrequent, mostly trivial for the morgue or other “unlocks” but still not ignorable.

As an officer and student I had the system pretty wired; all of the student amenities were available to me, the rec center, transportation, everything, as well as the staff perquisites.  I could check out books from the library at the HSC, delivered from downtown, and keep them the whole semester.  Campus police perquisites usually start with water or coffee and cookies and finale with Christmas and function leftovers.  I had no idea this convention existed, if I had I would have been suspicious that it was unethical.  Obviously my position changed, it only takes 1 or 2 shifts without what I used to believe were protected worker’s rights to overcome any pride which might have prevented me from accepting a serving “to go” or graciously accepting a seat.  It was very rare that an officer ever considered themselves as entitled, but it happens.

Rather than entitled, I really felt cheated out of my life working for WVU, and to a lesser degree, the DNR.  I had no idea how much officers sacrifice for the privilege of coming to work which really put my pay check into perspective.  I worked from 3:15 to 11:15, Tuesday through Saturday.  My kids were asleep when I got home, left before I woke up, and got home after I left which goes a long way to explain the high divorce rate among officers.  The one day off I could see them, Sunday; I was frequently drafted to work football and other events.  This is probably the biggest reason I resigned from WVU.  Some of it I miss, a great deal of it was so completely unencumbering I felt like I had been reborn.  A few short weeks after a minor fender bender happened outside of my house and for an instant, I snapped into “cop mode.”  I started walking over, in an epiphany I shook it off; completely relieved I realized if they needed someone, they could just call the cops.  I could call the cops.

WVU also allows staff to take up to 6 credit hours of class per semester, so I felt not taking classes would be like throwing money away.  There were so many loopholes and hurdles to clear it took a long time to actually get a waiver.  I tell people the school felt sorry for me and I must have fallen through the cracks, because I’m no longer employed but I still get the waiver.  It’s only half true because I’ve been earning a merit scholarship since my first class after being accepted into the Ph.D. program in Political Science.  Now I’m taking two classes on scholarship and I pay for my student fees which are still quite significant.

My sneaking anxiety about starting a business is that I’ll get real work; real work, which only I am fit to do and that I will accept responsibility to do it.  I won’t eat, I won’t sleep, and the client will be amazed and promise me work in the future.  And, I’ll withdraw from my classes and forfeit any future tuition and probably any hope of getting a Ph.D.  Much more than balancing work and life, I’m attempting to balance multiple lives.  Which brings me back full circle to the technological singularity; how else can I hope to have and to dream?  And so, I don’t quit.  I keep learning.  I stay in class, and push myself to stay up with IT or become obsolete at the pace of Moore’s Law.  It’s who I am.

In the future, I’m going to try to demonstrate on these pages some of unique qualities of what it is I do and to be a little less discursive.  I want to give you some of my courage, so take courage to know you are able to commission a great work.  My pallet is strange debris because I am an information worker from the technological intelligentsia; do not be afraid.







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