I have long loved studying self-improvement.
Sound hokey? When I was young, I read books. Some would call them Christian pop-psychology. Before that I read normal psychology books looking for anything that would help me overcome my social awkwardness or disorders–something that would tell me the things that seem obvious to everyone else but me–stuff people seem afraid to tell me, and if I were to ask, they would say “Go ask your parents or someone else”.
So, I took matters into my own hands and found that other friends did the same thing. We would all read a book we thought was awesome and we would share it with each other. Or we would learn a new concept in psychology.
But then a babysitter had a game in her hall closet called “Ouija” by Parker Brothers, and immediately my sister and I were curious. We were told it had something to do with the subconscious mind guiding us to spell out things and give us information, and as ironic and terrifying as it may seem, my sister and I were quite ignorant of anything related to the occult at that time, so we ended up buying each other an Ouija board for Christmas. Therefore we had two in the house. We would play with them when friends came over and bring them to school for rainy days so we could ask who the other children were in love with to tease them.
But my friends across the street warned me of the dangers of the occult and anything related to ESP. He mentioned the Bible and I told him our family believed in God but not in the Bible. And soon, my friends led me to the Lord for Salvation. I would later learn more of the dangers of the occult and also about many other religions and cults. And in my senior year of high school I studied under Walter Martin and others who taught courses on the cults.
Trials and Tribulations
For my first year of college, I went away to Portland to study Music and Religion at a small Christian college called Warner Pacific College. I had previously asked the Lord to give me trials and tribulations to make me a stronger Christian, and He seemed to be happy to do so.
There, I had a girlfriend named Sherry who I loved dearly. She was my first actual girlfriend. But after a few months, she got bored being with one guy and wanted to play the field. During that time, I lost my first grandfather, returned home for the funeral, and returned to Portland. By spring, I felt concerned for my parents who had recently became Christians and seemed to be arguing over how involved to be with the church, so after two quarters, I returned to Fresno. I also had developed an awareness of my love and talents in math, computers, and technical areas and wanted to study acoustics and needed to attend a school more advanced in technology.
I wanted skills for building churches, musical instruments, and buildings for performing arts. Since there was no Acoustics major, my counselor suggested I major in Architecture at Fresno City College which I did.
I also developed an interest for a girl named Stacy who I had known since high school. She did not feel we were meant for each other, and as wonderful of a person she was, it was for the best as our beliefs theologically would eventual diverge. A few other young women became interested in me over the next few years and both my mother and my sister wondered what was wrong with me, why I did not form an interest in them.
So, during most of my 20s, my interests were primarily my schooling, my work, and my music and children’s bus ministries along with evangelism. I hacked into a tutorial system and that helped me learn my Physics much better and more easily. I also used the tutorials to learn Basic programming while taking a course in Fortran, and then that summer, I packed out my schedule with business programming courses in COBOL.
During this time I pretty well mastered various Rubik’s cube type puzzles–2x2x2, 3x3x3, 4x4x4, the Pyramix, and others. The children on my bus ministry would hand me their cubes to have them straightened out and I would solve them while talking with them and their families. But during this time, I became interested in a young woman. We started out as friends at first, but then when she didn’t fall in love with me, too, I was heart broken. And one of the things she said was that I was not her type–I was too much of a geek solving Rubik’s cubes, majoring in math, working with computers and such.
While I needed to complete my math degree and had to work in computers for my career, I put away the cubes and avoided them to the point where I can no longer solve any of the more difficult ones and haven’t been able to do so for decades. As for my geekiness, I wanted to give up being a geek and become a “computer professional”. No more geeky clothes. But I was still a geek inside.
I completed my degree and went to work for NASA. By this time, I met and began courting my second girlfriend who I later married. My time at NASA ended and a job was waiting for me at a database company called Ingres in Alameda. During my time at NASA and Ingres, I was taken aback by how liberal the bay area was. Looking back on that time I feel silly as though I should have expected it. But I had always been accustomed to conservative and liberal people having equal rights to their opinion, to be themselves, to speak as they were accustomed to speaking. But in the bay area, if you speak in a manner that gives any hint of a conservative mind-set, you are asking to be dragged into your manager’s office and warned.
At Ingres, I was considered “not positioned” to go into management. This, in spite of tending to function as a person who creates or assists in creating new groups or initiates successful endeavors. So, I applied myself to studying courses in time management, project management, and pretty much anything related to management in addition to the technical courses I took in Unix System Administration, Database Administration, and Development.
Again, I found myself enjoying the management courses tremendously. In a sense, they were easy for me as Management 101 was easy for me during my university studies. I considered going for an MBA. But at that time, I also considered taking on more of a management role for a consulting firm in Jakarta, Indonesia. I almost accepted that role where I would be responsible for the database communications for Bank Danamon’s branches throughout Indonesia. But things were quite disorganized. A girl working there tried to size me up asking me, “So, what’s your specialty? Making resumes?” I smiled. Then the connectivity issue she and her team had been working on for weeks was shown to me, and I fixed it in a few minutes.
In retrospect, I should have taken the job anyway for the experience working as a consultant in a foreign country. And since Indonesian was my second language, it would have been a perfect fit for me. But instead, the woman who was hired to replace me moved across to manage our team at Ingres, and she made life a nightmare for the entire team. Everyone was ready to walk out on the spot, but I encouraged them to stay, take it as an opportunity for victory over a challenge, win it, and when they leave, to leave to go toward a goal rather than away from a problem. Every one of the team had been put on a performance plan unfairly. And every team member rose above the challenge and came off the plan, and immediately had their ideal jobs waiting for them. Including me.
Oracle offered me a position with their Production Unix team, and it seemed like an awesome team to work with. And it was. The pay was higher. The company was more solid. The database engine was more robust in my opinion, faster performing, more able to withstand abuse such as someone kicking the plug out of the wall. Replication actually worked. But I loved my management from the manager immediately over me up to the CEO. Although the CEO had a reputation for being demanding, I appreciated that greatly.
At Oracle, we could study remotely at Stanford, and I felt it was time for me to gain a good formal education in Computer Science. I’m glad I did. Stanford was a tough school. I was disappointed with their lack of competence and commitment to real integrity in grading and making sure remote students had a playing field equivalent to what on-campus students had. But the quality of teaching was exceptionally good.
I was eventually asked to help form Oracle’s Enterprise Systems Center later known as the Large Systems Support Center where we performed applied research into performance, scalability, and robustness of exceptionally large database systems. After some time there, a manager at PeopleSoft started pulling on me to get me to move to PeopleSoft. My commute would drop from one hour to five minutes, and I would have an opportunity to learn their technology as well. So, I eventually said yes in spite of loving my job at Oracle.
PeopleSoft was a very friendly place, not quite as intense or pressured as Oracle. Some found Oracle to be a pressure cooker and they quickly burned out and left. I have a different make-up. I found Oracle perfect for me–exhilarating. I hungered not just for more technology to be fed into me like a blasting fire hose, but I wanted to research it and pull in that technology faster than any fire hose could blast it. And you sort of needed to have that mind-set to enjoy working at Oracle.
After a few years at PeopleSoft, I needed another challenge. A few of us formed a software architecture team and created an esupport or automated remote diagnostics system based on Motive technology. We put it through a beta test with real users, then presented it at a PeopleSoft show in New Orleans, and a lady and I worked on putting together a curriculum for training the Global Support Center (GSC) and we both provided training. Then when Motive learned that our team had extended their software into an interesting direction, they said they wanted to implement this into their core product, so PeopleSoft management decided to shut down our project until Motive had completed what they were doing. So, our team was disbanded and we went back to our regular work.
A management position became open. Someone else was selected. The Clickmarks recruited me to be their Director of IT and Operations and Chief Systems Architect, and I moved over.
Well, it’s late and I will have to stop here and finish this article later. But we can see here that self-improvement takes many forms. And sometimes there are major setbacks where we must heal, dust ourselves off, recover our strength, and move forward again.
The stay at Clickmarks was perhaps the best job of many excellent jobs. I had an awesome CEO, great coworkers, and an awesome opportunity to help build up a great, successful startup that would be loved by Vodafone–one of the world’s largest cellular phone companies if not the largest.
And just when things were going well, tragedy hit and my marriage ended. My ex was in an affair. I would leave my job to save my marriage, but to no avail. I would pray and read every book I could on saving a marriage, and I would go back and read some of the books on marriage I read before I ever met my wife at the time. I would eventually move back to Fresno to be with family and recover and deal with life as a single father sharing custody.
In Fresno, I would eventually remarry, go to work for US Script and then Community Medical Centers and get fired for the first time in my life shortly after losing two friends and my mother. It would take three years of being unemployed to come to appreciate the time I had to spend caring for my elderly father. I hated the financial drain happening at the most damaging time. But it has been a long time since I had this much time to study, to grow, to learn so many new technologies and to come to the place where I could pick and choose what I wanted rather than having to accept whatever is available. I am close to receiving my first Social Security check, which means I will have at least that to fall back on. But I have liberty to pursue my own goals.
Since that time, I have written and copyrighted a song. I have to admit I’ve been fighting for my unemployment, but I’ll keep fighting. I have had time to see the doctor and head off some problems that could have been very serious–the beginnings of diabetes, Graves disease, and all my blood levels are looking excellent now. I have some problems with arthritis but I have some very good options.
I took time to google up the most lucrative skills in demand and sorted them in order. I looked at job postings and took note of the skills required or desired by employers. I noted my own skill gaps in these areas. I researched those skills. I found good MOOCs at Coursera, Udemy, and elsewhere and enjoyed studying Machine Learning with Andrew NG from Stanford and Baidu. I am enjoying Princeton’s course in cryptocurrency. And the thing is, I already have the math skills to dive straight into these with no problem. I have been watching Youtube videos put on by many top experts in Machine Learning. I went back to my old Quantum Mechanics book and actually played around with Quantum Computing with the idea of using it hopefully when Japan comes out with their system with millions of qubits. However, I am curious how their system would or would not be affected by decoherency–that is, whether the qubits would keep their, well, values, or quantum states long enough to be measured. Anyway, that’s getting too much into the weeds of the technology here.
I studied DevOps and Docker specifically and dockerized my entire web and email setup. I learned more about security than I knew before. I reviewed my mathematics which I missed for so many years. I even considered doing a PhD in Math, Physics, and/or Computer Science, but ended up thinking it might be a waste of time at my age. But then again, maybe not. One thing for sure is I enjoy learning and if I can learn as much if not more just doing what I am currently doing, then that could, in theory, just lay out the path for a PhD so that pursuing it would be pretty much trivial or running down a road I have already traveled.
I was into neural networks for investments perhaps 20 years ago, but the systems at that time did not have the power to perform the calculations that are possible today not just with more powerful CPUs or more cores, but with GPUs from Nvidia–the 1080 Ti and others. Google has created their own TPU or Tensor Processing Unit which is said to be faster than GPUs. And there are some cute little chips that are used in security cameras and drones today–perhaps VPUs or Vision Processing Units that are likely quite good for robotic vision as well.
Auto-driving vehicles are starting to mature to where a little more trust can be placed in them than before. Language translation is getting much better as is voice recognition of course. Google and others are doing auto-captioning of pictures, though they still produce some funky results sometimes. But they’re getting better.
Newer techniques are being developed. Kaggle holds comptetitions. People are getting into Deep Learning, and Deep Learning has actually been used to beat some chess and go games built more on a Convolution Neural Network.
These technologies are being used to diagnose skin cancer often with better accuracy than a team of doctors.
And what’s cool about all this is that my daughter and her friends are into so much of this technology as well that there will likely be no end to the wide variety of opportunities that will be available to us all.
What I’m doing now
I have been keeping track of target skills on a spreadsheet. But I have also been keeping notes in notepads and in a notebook. But this morning I decided to do a little Kaizen exercise, and that is to set up alarms on my phone to make sure I make just a little progress in specific target areas each day. One for physical exercise and prayer. One for Chinese. One to write or fix one blogging article. One to develop a positive, encouraging video for others. One to do a MOOC assignment. One to work on one “pomodero” related to tax, unemployment, bills. One home thing–grocery, clean up, car, etc. One to make sure my doctor appointments are on track.
And one special thing–to do something that has some potential for going viral–something small. A small article. A t-shirt design.
The idea is to experience little shots of victory or success to celebrate each day and to make progress each day.
I also have one for reading. Some say it’s good to read about one book a day. I read fast and comprehend what I read quite thoroughly. But I find some areas of study are better met by going to Wikipedia and hunting down things I have forgotten or never quite learned. And what’s interesting is that one thing can lead to another, and the way I handle that is to right-click on each link where there is more information I want to read and open a new tab on it. In the end, I end up with several tabs open along the top–I have 18 open right now.
Taking this multi-tab approach, I saw Cauchy’s integration and residues and on that page I saw analytic functions. I already knew what those were so I left that alone and saw homomorphic, so I clicked on it to see what the difference was between it and analytic functions. Then uniform convergence and Mobius Transformation, Stieltjes inversion formula, stokes theorem, and names of mathematicians I did not remember hearing about.
Another tool I have been using is Trello to manage my personal goals, tasks, appointments, todo lists in a sort of Kanban way. That brings me to having more time to dive into all this “Agile” stuff–Scrum, Kanban, Waterfall. I had already studied PMI’s project management to the point where I was scoring in the 99th percentile I think on PMI’s 1997 rendition of project management, and I studied the latest materials pretty exhaustive three or four years ago to where I felt pretty sure at that time I could complete a PMP and do well. But I had no reason to spend the money. At that time I thought I was finishing my Epic CSM certificate. But I kept falling short by about one question. I did not believe Epic was acting honestly in good faith, and when I questioned what I thought was fraud, defamation, and a blatant conflict of interest in their scoring and offering of a large discount, I was fired for the first time in my life.
Some say the best revenge is to do extremely well. I have already wasted enough time trying to convince dishonest people to be more honest. I still have a war to win in this arena but I cannot afford to make that my central purpose in life. It will be a victory I plan to win while getting more important things done. I want to recover financially and be strong once again. I want to get back into physical health. I want to learn Chinese and improve my Indonesian and afterward brush up on my Spanish and Greek before taking on other languages.
I want to do amazing things with Machine Learning and be far ahead of others in Quantum Computing when the machinery becomes available and the need becomes substantial. I would like to use it to expedite and improve the learning processes for Deep Learning.
I want to grow, to mature, to heal spiritually and have a good, healthy relationship with God and family and others, to be able to pray and live in harmony with God rather than angry over what happened in the past.
I want to travel with my family and to have the good health to travel. I want to see Singapore again. I want to go to Europe again someday. I want to see the Northern LIghts. I want to go for TLR training perhaps in Denmark and perhaps help in various locations.
There is too much good to live for to be caught up in grouchiness and slavery to worry.