1. I wanted to be an engineer from a very young age. When I was 5 years old, we had this yellow velour couch (it was 1982, remember) and solid oak coffee table. While my mom was talking to a friend or something, I placed one of the cushions between the coffee table and the couch. Then I said, “look mommy, soft bridge!” followed by one step and then the sound of my teeth making contact with the hard oak. Blood, tears, and a dental specialist for years didn’t get me down though: at age 8, I wore an MIT sweatshirt despite not knowing anything beyond the meaning of the letters. Not that I thought at ALL about the place between 8 and 22, but my 8 year-old self must have pulled some strings to get me in for grad school.
2. I was a frat boy in college. I was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi chapter at the University of Chicago. This is a statement that I always have to back up with excuses, like, “I was young, I needed the money,” or “I saw their hip hop a capella group as a way to explore my sensitive side.” Although it didn’t end on the best note, I admit that I had a great time there, and it put me among the likes of Ben Stein, P.J. O’Rourke and John Perry Barlow.
3. I never have been a very good actor. In the third grade my whole class put on a play. I don’t even remember the title, but I do remember my part: bus driver. I had one line in the entire hour-long production, and it went something like, “all aboard!” Anyway, my teacher at the time didn’t think that I was putting enough energy into it, and he coached me on how to be more expressive. In the end he yanked me from the part and I was the only student not to perform. This is the part of the story where I’d love to say, “but then I went on to star in a broadway production of the same play 10 years later.” But I didn’t. I became an engineer and I can’t even remember the name of the play.
4. During my Ph.D. I spent a summer working for the CDC studying STDs. When I tell this to most people they respond by saying “haha, so did you get a lot of hands on experience?” as they step away from me pretending I’m infected. The truth is that it was a really amazing internship, with them helping me understand the mathematics of diffusion on networks, and me helping them understand technology. Besides my published work, I did some fun projects looking at search traffic to their sites, correlating logs with seasonal outbreaks of various diseases (e.g. herpes and syphillis). I also showed them a little SEO to get their herpes information onto the first page of search results. And I learned a host of knowledge about sexually transmitted infections, which many of my friends find useful on occasion (please send your questions over email).
5. For a little under a year I co-ran a show on MIT’s radio station called electronic experiments. It had the brazen goal of being completely live, and mostly improvised electronic music every week. It was a hell of a lot of work, but ended up introducing Dan and I to just about everyone producing music in the Boston area. As for our music (Tek Fu), which was always improvised, I think someone once compared it to free jazz: “hours of monotonous garbage punctuated with (brief) moments of brilliance.” That led to the creation of our local music crew unlockedgroove, and eventually to the creation of our label under the same name. All of our vinyl is creative commons licensed, and Dan’s most recent record with Ben Recht is pretty dang hott.
Likelihood of getting transmission? Low. But if I did it, they should have to as well…