What got you interested in biology?
I was an amateur naturalist as a kid. Had collections of all sorts, and a small menagerie — much to my mother’s dismay when an anole got loose in the basement. I graduated from college with a double major – Biology and Chemistry.
Tell us about your research at Los Alamos National Labs.
I worked in C division first as a contractor, then after I got clearance I switched to different projects. We supported Geodesy research and mensuration which later became the Global Positioning System. This had little to do with Biology, mostly the fact that I had experience with assembler programming for the math and hardware involved. Experience counts for a lot sometimes.
The commute to Los Alamos eventually became too much. That happened to several colleagues as well. It was about 65 miles (104km) one-way.
Why the switch from biology to programming and sysadmin?
During graduate school I worked in the computer center and supported a lot of software packages and the OS on IBM and DEC hardware. After graduate school I taught in a Nursing College affiliated with a PHS hospital on the Navajo Reservation. Because I had programming skills I was immediately sucked into writing a grant for a computer center for the college. When the grant came through my classroom time decreased a lot.
What would be some advice for people looking to start programming and or Unix admin?
Required for syadmin: Start with a clear direction then: Certification, SQL, scripting in shell languages, top-notch virtualization knowledge.
Nowadays, people look for certification and some experience for hiring sysadmins. Server farms are enormous and most installations run a database instance on many of those servers. So, scripting skills and SQL are very important. You often have to do the same task 200 times, correctly. The first time and every time.
Where I worked for the past 20 years, there was a small crew of PC admins for 400 desktops and hundreds of Windows virtuals. Then just myself handling about 40 UNIX/Linux servers, many virtualized into even more servers. This indicates to me that playing sysadmin well really equates to managing the virtual it lives on.
There is also the area of desktop support or help desk, which can be radically different from being a sysadmin. So, there is no one single best way to get into getting paid to be a computer nerd. Pick one “destination” and work toward it.
Give us some insight on your time living on native reservations.
We were on the Navajo Reservation for 9 years 40 years ago, then Santo Domingo Reservation for 15. My daughter spoke Navajo, my son spoke Keres. The one important key there was accommodation: willingness to meet us outsiders more than half-way. From my perspective from years back, people there thought us Bilagaanas or Medica were a little nuts but they always tried to answer in a way they thought we would get. The results were sometimes confounding. The Navajo language appears to be in serious decline now.
Translating is not a trivial thing. A functional vocabulary in Navajo is on the order of 100K words, a comparable English-speaker’s vocabulary is 10K.
So translating is interesting, in the sense of the curse: ‘may you live in interesting times’
What are some of your favorite places in New Mexico?
The Bisti badlands, Taos Gorge, White Sands, and the peak of Mount Taylor.
What research outside of biology sciences are you most paying attention to?
Exoplanets. Period. This is truly wonderful. I had a wall chart that I kept up to date with known exoplanets. The rate of exoplanet discovery exceeded my chart keeping skills a while back.
What are some of the most important biological science advancements in the last 10 years
that “no one knows about”?
Non-scientists may have some very vague idea about genetics, DNA manipulation, and how it relates to us as individuals. Immunotherapy has been around for quite a while. But. Genetically “tailored” immunotherapy may just have had a breakthrough. Nanjing Legend Biotech reported results on June 5, 2017, involving an experimental immunotherapuetic regime for multiple myeloma that had amazingly good results. If this has merit, patient prognoses could improve in this realm dramatically.
But there is also the counter-problem of science reporter’s hype. Too many “miracle cures” are never heard from again. This is a major problem, in my opinion.
Give us some predictions for the next 100 years of biology science breakthroughs.
I think the integration of human neural input/output with embedded nanotechnology will come to the forefront. There are now “smart” very small hearing aids that improve hearing greatly over past much larger models. I expect many kinds of smaller neurally integrated devices to become de rigueur, much in the way cell phone technology has done.
Lastly, what are some of your all time favorite books, movies, musicians etc.?
This one is easy –
‘Guns, Germs, and Steel’ by Jared Diamond, ‘The Stars My Destination’
by Alfred Bester.
Modern composers are my favorite – Arvo Part, Maurice Jarre, Philip
My favorite movie of all-time is ‘Star Wars’.
I have a BS in Information Sciences from UW-Milwaukee. I’ve helped manage Physics Forums for over 17 years. I enjoy learning and discussing new science developments. STEM communication and policy are big interests as well. I have a lovely wife and a cat named Mason.