Who is this guy, anyway?



I’m a guy who spent most of his career trying to solve impossible problems. Trained in Astrophysics, I ended up going under cover in the black world to become a “Soviet Weapons Expert”. I learned a ton about signal processing, at least 30 years before the rest of you learned the same techniques.

In 1989 I met my wife, Helene, a Psychologist with Psychoanalytic post-doctoral training. Obviously, honesty and real communication would be a basic expectation from her, and so I had to leave the black world. I couldn’t give the usual cover stories for what I did for a living, and for why I had to suddenly disappear for an indefinite time, not telling her where I was going.

So I entered the Military / Industrial complex and helped design helicopter-borne LIDAR underwater mine detection systems for a while, and then became a Sr. Scientist for the Hughes, then Raytheon, EKV Program – hitting a bullet with a bullet, taking out incoming nuclear warheads before they could re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. It was there that I honed my image processing skills. My black work had all been SIGINT. (they are very similar domains, one is 1-D, and the other is 2-D)

But, let’s back up a decade prior to my intelligence work. I was a lowly Astrophysicist, trained at first in theoretical work at CCNY and Columbia, where I helped to unravel the problem of the formation of spiral arms in galaxies, using a model called the Spiral Density Wave theory.

We were fitting data from the Columbia University 115 GHz radio telescope atop Pupin Hall, mapping our galaxy’s spiral arms looking at molecular CO (carbon monoxide), and migrating stars in the local Gould Belt backwards, in time, to their nuclear birth, to show that they had been born in another nearby spiral arm. All in support of our Spiral Density Wave theory, of course.

Then in 1976, New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy, and they started laying off the policemen and firemen. I was a city employee too, and as a lowly graduate student, I thought surely they would come after my position too.

I recall making all of $300 / month back then, sleeping on an air-mattress atop my desk in my office. I dispensed with regular eating so that I could purchase books from the Barnes & Noble store downtown. I was too young and naive to realize that the police and firemen was a political ploy to attract attention to the dire straights of New York City. Nobody would have cared about firing all the graduate students… heh!

But, in youthful panic, I searched around for a safe harbor, and decided that I would go to Wyoming (!?!) where they were constructing the world’s first completely computer-controlled 100-inch Infrared Telescope. I decided that learning how to do experimental physics would probably be good for me.

So I applied, and was accepted, against the protestations of my professors in NYC who wanted me to go instead to somewhere reputable, like Yale, or Harvard, or Princeton. But no, my youthful rebelliousness kicked in and I was convinced in my mind that experimental physics were an overdue subject for me. Besides, having grown up in the midwest, I always wanted to go out West where the cowboys roam. What could be better than Wyoming?!

Wyoming was good. After all, it taught me how to do things with my hands, besides push a pencil over equations. What I learned there served me well enough. It would be a different life than had I gone to Yale, or followed my advisor on his sabbatical to Westerbork in the Netherlands. But it would ultimately lead me to my lovely Helene.

It was in Wyoming that I learned how to use a computer to control big instruments (a 100-inch telescope – big!), and upon leaving Wyoming, my first job was at the world’s then largest telescope – The Multiple Mirror Telescope Observatory, in Tucson, Arizona. A whopping 6 x 72-inch mirrors in that beast, 7 meters aperture!

When I arrived in Tucson, the real Astrophysicists were paid $12,000/year, whether they needed it or not. I became the highest paid “staff” employee on campus, at the University of Arizona, at a whopping $24,000 / year. (staff carries less prestige though…)

After several years at the MMTO, developing its mount control and pointing system, I left to join IBM for a stint, where I applied my skills to industrial machinery and factory automation. Eventually… that led somehow to the black world. Down the rabbit hole to another universe. Commies behind every tree, so to speak…

(sorry, I am an inveterate smartass, and I have been challenged on numerous occasions to “watch what you say!” – Oh, the next 4 years ought to be really interesting… I was probably the token oddball at Raytheon. Just because I worked there doesn’t mean that I’m a bullet-head. IBM referred to the likes of us as “Wild Ducks”.)

It’s dinner time now. And yes, I am an archetypal Rocket Scientist. So Auf Wiedersehen, for now.

  • DM


Author: dbmcclain

Astrophysicist, spook, musician, Lisp aficionado, deaf guy

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