Chuqui: an autobiography

Fortunately, not yet posthumous. More stuff than you probably remotely want to know about me….

(Originally written in January, 2001 as part of my annual review to myself.

Updated January, 2003 where I felt if needed to be)

To figure out where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve were. If you don’t, you run the risk of circling back and revisiting places you’d rather not be. But to explain where I’ve been, I also have to revisit some of those areas, and to be honest, I don’t want to — I’m shaped by my past, but my past isn’t something I really enjoy wandering in, so you’ll have to excuse me if I skip stuff and give short shrift to other.

For instance, high school. I was two people in high school —

There was a public me, who was involved in, well, pretty damn much everything; athletics (I played what I could, I managed what I couldn’t, and I more or less lived in the gyms, and graduated with three varsity basketball, two varsity football and one or two varsity baseball letters, all as manager. I also swam, did some water polo (including goalie), wrestled a little, racquetball, and bike racing. Of these, the only ones I was remotely good at were racquetball and my cycling, which ended when I wracked my knees in a crash. After that, I slowed down significantly, becoming, well, a bit of a slug, something I’m today trying to fix, slowly by surely), drama (some acting, more tech), speech and debate (almost going to state finals once), school journalism (sports editor, duh), photography — even in high school I dabbled in lots of stuff, because I was interested in lots of stuff, a habit that continues today (but which is a double-edged banana, since if you play with too many toys, you never get good enough with any toy to master it.

But there was a private me as well, which few saw (including my parent, who were amazed when I leveled with them a few years ago, and I’m not sure they really believe me) — high school was a brutally unhappy time that led to three suicide attempts, two of them serious; it was a time when I learned to manipulate the jock culture to skate through school, leaving me completely unready for a college environment I couldn’t manipulate, and, of course, girls, a subject I flunked horribly and which it took me a long time to finally get my act together on. Compound that with having very close friends killed in auto accidents both my sophomore and junior year (both alcohol related, of course). Given that I was intermittently suicidal for two and a half years and depressed when I wasn’t — you get the idea that high school really sucked (and mom was surprised when I tried to bail on graduation…. I lost that fight). I can honestly say that it’s because of three teachers who figured it out and cared, and a couple of dear friends who also figured it out and intervened — that I’m here at all. About a decade ago, I went back and tracked them all down to say thank you, and was able to find all but one — the girl who was (platonically) key to keeping me sane enough to stay alive until I found myself again. To her, I’m eternally grateful, wherever she is. (if I were a christian who believed that my god intervenes in mundane affairs and all life is controlled by that being, I’d declare her to be an angel. But I’m not, and I believe in being responsible for my own actions, even the stupid ones, and not relying on letting someone else take the responsibility or blame, she’s instead a very caring person who’s debt I’ll never repay, no matter how much I pay forward against the balance….)

So you’ll excuse me if I leave my high school days where they belong, dead and buried — other than to say it left me with a strong interest in exploring everything, a strong belief the special people can make a big difference, a huge debt (my life!) I’ve tried to pay forward in reward to people who did the same to me, an ability to study organizations and figure out how to take advantage of the politics of them, a love of sports and the whole jock environment and bad knees…

I entered college in 1977, completely unprepared. I wandered looking for a reason to be there, finally ended up in theater, joined the debate team. Did badly at everything. Then in 1978, looking for an easy way to avoid math — I found a class in something called “introduction to basic programming”. Love at first sight, to put it mildly. It also led to me being kicked out of school for bad grades, so I ended up at a 2 year to get things back under control, but I finally knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, and life finally had a purpose.

Around then I discovered there was a group of people who were using the school systems to (gasp) communicate, not just use them for homework. The main computer was a CDC Cyber, and it connected all of the campuses of the CSU system. Someone had written an e-mail program in APL, there was actually a real-time chat system called (amazingly) $talk, and someone else had written (in fortran!) a program where you could leave messages for others to read and reply to called the Latrine Wall (what do you want to do? #1(read) or #2(write)?) I had no clue at the time, and neither did any of the people doing this, but they’d independently invented the BBS system. Over time, I took over running the Latrine wall, and added new versions for other topics (my primary interest being SF), then rewrote the code so a single program could (gasp) handle different topics from a single program (um, it was 1978. I was writing in fortran. CDC fortran, on a Cyber with 6 bit bytes and 60 bit words, and lower case too 12 bits… and I’m doing text hacking…)

The CSU group topped out about 200-250 people. Over time, it developed a strong, if distributed culture. There were parties, there were romances. There were fights. We wasted an enormous amount of time in chat and e-mail and on the boards. The admins wanted us dead, but had trouble keeping up with us (after a while, they gave up). And then I got introduced to the Arpanet, and SF-Lovers.

My first e-mail address was You weren’t just talking around the state — my god, there were even thousands of folks out there. Absolute heaven.

By this point, I’d figured out enough about my head to actually be able to date without self-destructing (or wishing I would). The first woman I ever got truly serious about I met over $talk, taking her out after she’d flunked a final and needed to be distracted — I was at CSU Fullerton (aka the Fullerton University Center of Knowledge, as we called it until our debate coaches noticed…), she was at CSU Long Beach, and she got dragged to Disneyland (where I was working at the time…). I mention that only because I just got a card from her and her husband, and they’re about to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary — he was a close friend of mine, and I stepped out of the picture to let them figure all of this out. I’m thrilled to know it was the right decision, too — and the synchronicity of it is that he, unless he’s changed jobs without me knowing it, designs rides for Disney… (Jon and Karyn, congrats!)

My first professional programming job was in 1979, programming fortran on a data general Nova. By late 1980, I was working full time with computers, had quit Disney (1976-1980), left school (with 60 units left for a BSCS, 45 of them general ed), and had firmly entrenched computers in my life…

In early 1980, although through the computers, I met the woman who’d become my first wife, a marriage which lasted four years and proved mostly that (a) we’d married the wrong person, (b) I wasn’t nearly emotionally ready to be married, and (c) slow engagements are a damn good thing. We moved from the LA area to the San Francisco bay area in 1982, and divorced in 1984. And that’s all I plan on saying about my first wife, since she was a good person, simply the wrong one, and despite that, she was the person who finally helped me grow up and be able to deal with life for real. We parted, if not friends, friendly, and I believe in letting her enjoy her life without being reminded of my continued existance… (we have, actually, talked a few times, but don’t try to keep in touch. Why should we?)

During this time I’d switched to the Arpanet (later known as this beast called the Internet), discovered Usenet (I’m honestly not sure when, but by January 1983, I’d already attached my then-company’s minicomputer to it via uucp), and on usenet in the comics groups, I met the person who would become my second (and final) wife — Laurie, who happened to be at Purdue at the time. When she graduated, she took the bold step of moving west, waited patiently for me to get my head together enough to try it again, and we were married in 1987, so we’re a few years behind Jon and Karyn, but chasing them…

Even then, computer (and long distance) romances were unusual — our life once made the Washington post in a feature, and again somewhere else I no longer remember. Now, of course, this stuff is almost routine, but back then, people thought we were crazy, but Laurie and I had something most relationships didn’t to build on — we talked, no, communicated. A lot. About everything. Enough to piss off more than one uucp admin around the country for running up their phone bills (people who know today’s internet only won’t understand that. I’ll explain some day) — and it built a strong enough relationship to make it all work (it didn’t help that on our first meeting, we were rather taken with each other as well, when I roadtripped through Purdue on a weekend during a business trip..)

And since then, life’s been pretty damn good. Laurie helped me finish the job of getting my life together, and it’s sometimes been interesting, sometimes stressful, but it’s never once been something I’ve had second thoughts about.

And hopefully, this gives a little glimpse into why I’m me — the sports interest that led to (although how an LA bike and beach bum ended up a hockey fan is another story…), the interest in computers and more specifically the net, my committment to paying forward into the net and making it a better place, of trying to be there for people when they need me, of finding causes that deserve a piece of me and finding a way of giving it.

I’m now at the point in my life where almost half of it has been attached to the Internet in its various forms, and I’ll make no bones of the fact that the net has always been a significant part of my life (sometimes, the primary focus). And while more than once I’ve been told to get a life, those folks don’t have a clue. I have one, a pretty damn good one (and a better one than I had back when I was desperately trying to be normal…) — virtual communities really aren’t virtual. They’re just enabled differently. And getting a life has nothing to do with computers. computers don’t have lives — people do. Or don’t. And whether a person has a life has nothing to do with whether they’re on a computer or not…

And I wouldn’t have it any other way…

Some (hopefully short) notes on things I’m interested in, or involved with, so if you seem we walking down the street, you can walk up and say “compadre! I’m involved in that, too!” (or run off and look for a hiding place, if you prefer…)

With computers and the net (can they even be separated any more?), my main interest is in working with and building communities (on-line communities aren’t virtual, they’re just enabled differently…)– which is something I’ve been doing going back to about 1979, although it wasn’t until three or four years ago I put a name on it. Although I’ve been involved in USENET and mailing lists for most of that time, USENET is dead (although the body is so big and decentralized there’s no brain to recognize the body is rotting), and I’ve come to the realization that mailing lists suck as a community tool — it’s just that until the last couple of years, there weren’t any alternatives, or they sucked even worse. Those tools are just now maturing, and I’m now starting to investigate them seriously. The biggest problem (and it’s NOT a problem, really) is that people are conditioned to and comfortable with lists, and they tend to think they work at this stuff. If they’re happy, I don’t plan on screwing it up but I think over time, most of the community aspects of mailing lists will move to other formats, primarily on the web.

Laurie and I have no kids (by choice), but instead, have our birds and cats. Currently we’re blessed with three canaries, two cockatiels and Tatiana, an umbrella cockatoo (practically speaking, a four year old with an air horn and a claw hammer…). We’re currently working on adopting in a pair of rescued cockatiels, and that should happen in the next week or so.

One of our cats is a feral rescue, the other adopted out of the local humane society. One is an extremely reserved, intelligent cat, the other is a brainless, golden-retriever-esque bundle of happy energy. I’ve never been a cat person — never — and I’ve always, always wanted a dog in the house (but free time and logistics have always gotten in the way). I now have one, too, but it’s stuck inside the body of a tiny calico cat…

The cockatoo is our kid — as I like to joke, we name our vet as “pediatrician” on our tax forms. Cockatoos are highly social, intelligent animals with a definite personality, a strong intellect and a stubborn personality. Developmentally, they ARE about the same as a three or four year old. Old enough to get in amazing trouble, almost old enough to know they shouldn’t, but more than willing to do it anyway. And unlike many birds that are kept as pets, cockatoos (who’s nickname is “love sponge”) are very demanding of your time. Just like, oh, a 3-4 year old…

The cats live in the back of the house, the birds in the front, and they mix only under supervision, cages notwithstanding. One of our cats has learned that the birds are offlimits, but the retriever-cat hasn’t figured it out yet.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve gotten involved in astronomy, since a friend has access to the telescope on Fremont Peak. A year ago we bought our first telescope, which we’ve only had time to use about four times, but now that some of the worst of the tech development is winding down, I hope that’ll change for the better.

When I hit 40 and decided middle age wasn’t all that bad (I had my midlife crisis at 25, in all honesty, and it’s been gravy since…), I’ve started rediscovering things I did earlier in life that had fallen by the wayside. I bought a bike, and have used it sparingly. I’ve been slowly building a woodshop in the garage 9at least the parts there’s room for tools in). I’ve been getting involved in gardening again fairly seriously, and dabbling with my needlepoint again. And Laurie’s been trying to teach me to identify birds when we birdwatch, but I’m pretty rotten at it still.

Even though I no longer write SF, I still read some, but I’m pretty disgusted with the field and the quality of writing. Much of my reading has shifted to other areas, including mysteries, but in all honesty I read very little fiction any more. Instead, I’ve started reading a lot more history and non-fiction, and have gotten rather interested in Roman Britain and World War II military history, especially naval warfare, double-especially submarine warfare. Why? Hell if I know… but it’s fascinating stuff.

And I’m a science and tech nut — part of my training to be a science fiction writer, I browse what’s happening in the sciences with the enthusiasm of an omnivore in a spring meadow… I’m not trying to be an expert in anything, but I enjoy learning and studying pretty much everything…