School from first grade through twelfth may be the greatest of all my failures in life. Except for a few music classes (Mrs. Durfee’s orchestra class in Houston, Mrs. Guinn’s Choir class in Sayre and Ms. Hartnell’s Choir class in Tehran) and one wood shop class (Mr. Butcher’s in Midland), I hated every moment of every class I was forced by law to attend in public schools. It wasn’t that they were difficult. None of them were. They were just so mind-numbingly boring–devoid of engaging elements of any sort. Nothing about them made me eager for them to begin or dread the sound of the bell signaling their end. Compulsory public schools did nothing but instill steadily mounting anger and resentment for being forced to attend each of the nine I slogged through in eight different public school systems located in as many different cities for twelve long, excruciating years.
My school education got off to a great start in kindergarten thanks to teachers who understood and applied project-based teaching methods to help young minds discover the joys of discovering by doing (hence my coinage of the corny word Doscovery). We had our reading, writing and arithmetic sessions but those were never the focus of kindergarten class. Projects were the focus and I looked forward to getting to class to participate in every project we worked through. But after kindergarten I despised every class I was forced by law to attend except the music classes and wood shop class previously mentioned. I enjoyed those classes because they were inherently project based where we created something. The rest were a total pain in the ass and waste of time, requiring nothing but wrote memorization and regurgitation to pass tests, earn grades and rack up credits. I coasted along through those years as a solid C student, never really giving a damn about doing any better grade wise.
Core college courses weren't any better but the advanced courses were fantastic because all of the ones I wanted to take were project based. So just as I did while attending public schools, I slogged through the core classes in anticipation of what I was hearing and reading was available in junior and senior year undergrad coursework, only managing to emerge from C average hell during the latter half of my college career when my interests were finally piqued to the max by advanced courses in performance music, literature, science, engineering, mathematics and computer science. Those years were fun and exciting.
During the final summer of my lengthy college career (I had earned 192 undergrad credit hours by the time I finally graduated, as opposed to the average 120 credit hours required for a bachelor of science), I signed up for a 4000 level data communications course taught by the Dean of the School of Math and Computer Science. Dr. Carpenter was an excellent instructor and the pinnacle of that course was a thesis project on a data communications subject of choice. We had to present our thesis proposal for approval by Dr. Carpenter and I was elated when he approved mine for expansion on the subject of using hypercube networks in short-wired, massively parallel processor array computers called Connection Machines.
I had been reading about Thinking Machines Corporation recently started up by Danny Hillis and Sheryl Handler to build and sell their Connection Machines and dreamed about someday doing something as significant as they had to advance parallel computing technology. Too poor to afford to buy or lease a Connection Machine to play with as I had every other kind of computer to date, I drew satisfaction in the project by detailing out the particulars of the hypercube data network and its communications protocol. I turned the paper in feeling good about its quality only to be called to Dr. Carpenter's office to discuss it before he graded it. When I arrived at his office he informed me that I had not included a conclusion in the paper and needed to write that part before returning it to him Monday morning no later than 10:00 AM. I took the paper home and thrashed through the weekend trying to come up with a conclusion that wouldn't ruin the quality of the thesis presented in it so far. By midnight Sunday night I had nothing and finally had to go to bed, too sleepy and dejected to continue.
As with most good ideas, this one came in my sleep while dreaming about finally getting my hands on a Connection Machine to play with. As I tinkered with the dreamed computer it transformed from the beautiful cubic form spangled with red LEDs as designed by Hillis and company into a bank of personal computers arranged on shelves and all interconnected by a custom-built hypercube network with the red LEDs on their computer interface cards all blinking away. I woke with a start Monday morning while it was still dark outside and rushed to my own personal computer, fired up WordStar and pounded out the final section of the paper as the sun was rising. I didn't have time to do a lot of editing so I just let the idea pour out of me onto the computer screen, concluding that perhaps a poor man's Connection Machine could be constructed using off-the-shelf personal computers and network interface cards with custom designed and coded networking software to emulate the data network of a Connection Machine.
I rushed to Dr. Carpenter's office and turned it in before the deadline and he handed it back to me the next day after class. He had awarded an A grade to the thesis, complimenting me on how good the conclusion was, how I was able to see the big picture. Then he urged me to think about continuing my studies in graduate school, that an ability to see the big picture was key to success and that my lengthy college career of 192 credit hours completed indicated I had the stamina for it. I thought about it until receiving a call from university administration that they had my diploma ready for me to pickup. I immediately ran flat out to the admin office to get it, ran flat out back home and started looking for my first job as a professional. Two months later I was employed and making money happily designing and developing a student registration system for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.
And so my 2nd greatest schooling failure took place. I failed to see value in Dr. Carpenter's suggestion to carry on in grad school, wanting instead to go out into the world to make money for working so hard rather than paying so much to merely stay in school working so hard. So I graduated that winter and began working my way up the corporate ladders I managed to latch onto, chasing the almighty dollar instead of dreaming, imagining, experimenting, innovating and creating something of significant, more lasting value.
Seven years after graduating from college, I read about the Beowulf Cluster created by Thomas Sterling and Donald Becker at NASA and began mentally kicking myself in the ass for not taking Dr. Carpenter's advice to try doing the same thing myself as a graduate school project.