1. Who are you?
That is not an easy question! I have done so many things and been involved in so many projects over the years that trying to define anything about myself ends up being overly verbose. I am formally trained in theoretical physics, mathematics, computer programming, and engineering. Over the years I have worked as a teaching assistant and lab instructor, as a physics research assistant, as a computer programmer, as a computer technician, and countless other jobs. I have published a few books over the years, on topics ranging from a dictionary of obscure words to a printed version of my doctoral dissertation in particle physics and cosmology. I have designed and maintained websites on physics, mathematics, art & photography, dictionaries, and genealogy. I have programmed and published a handful of software as well, including course scheduling software, assorted screensavers, mathematics demonstrations and visualization programs, and about a dozen video games. How can I reduce all of that into a few lines of About Me?
2. Is everything here created by you?
Aside from a few widgets which are publicly available everything on my websites is of my own creation. (Although some of the older photos I scanned and restored, but didn't take myself). I do all of the artwork and programming myself.
3. Why the complicated page of terms and conditions?
Unfortunately there are a few inconsiderate clods who have abused my websites over the years, and so I was forced to add some legal stuff to them. (For example, I get a lot of people pirating my dictionary and taking credit, in spite of it being free already). But the truth is that over 99% of my viewers will never have to concern themselves with it, so don't waste too much time worrying about it. If you don't cause me trouble, then it probably doesn't apply to you anyway.
4. Why are so many pages suddenly removed or password protected?
Unfortunately in November 2011 I discovered that someone had hacked in and edited several pages in my website. So because of that I have removed some of the targeted pages to a more secure location, and password protected others. Most of the information is available upon request, but due to this incident I am no longer making it publicly accessible.
5. Can I be your Facebook friend?
That depends on who you are. In an ideal world I would love to discuss physics and mathematics and robotics and all of my interests with anyone of a like mind. Unfortunately because of security issues I am now forced to limit my friends on Facebook to those that I have met in person or who have a verifiable background. If we went to school together, or have a family connection, or if you work in the same academic fields then I will certainly accept a friendship request. But if not, then I regret that I can't really connect with strangers anymore.
6. Can I advertise on your website?
I am always open to requests and suggestions, but most likely not. I maintain my pages just for my own interests and hobbies, and they are really not meant as a commercial venture. Having said that, if you have a product that I like or a webpage that I enjoy then I will certainly consider it. (And of course anyone who advertises using blog comments will have the offending message deleted immediately)
7. Why can't I leave comments on your blogs?
I used to allow comments on my blogs and other pages, but unfortunately as with so much of the modern internet it was being abused. People who had other agendas started posting to my blog everything from advertising to vicious personal attacks on other people. Since I do not have the time or the interest in moderating a lot of trolls, I opted to remove the comments options permanently.
Physics & Mathematics
1. Are you the author of this academic article?
It depends on the article of course, but in general if it relates to particle physics or theoretical physics then I probably wrote it. I am aware of at least two other scientists with the same name (one was an astronomer who left academia, and the other was an amateur mathematician who published a few articles) but most of the recent papers are mine.
2. Can you read my theory and help me get it published?
Sorry, but I don't have the time anymore. At one time I did offer this service, but the flood of papers combined with the attitude of several authors have left me with no choice but to reject any submissions outright. If you can't get it published through the standard preprint system or the peer review system, then there is very little that I can do to assist.
3. I need a physics / math/ computer science / engineering tutor.
I do offer these services at what I consider reasonable rates. So it doesn't hurt to send me an e-mail and if I have time and if I am in town then I will certainly consider the request. In general though I have a number of regular students already and often get busy near mid-terms and final exams. So I may be available for tutoring, but it depends on the time of year and my schedule.
4. Why did you leave academia?
I actually haven't left, but my plans got put on hold for a while. While I was a graduate student, I was also a full time caregiver for physically and mentally disabled family members. It was supposed to be just for six months, but somehow got extended by over a decade. And although those responsibilities are lessened now, I am still not able to accept international research positions (as of 2010) which limits my career options. But I am still working on several research projects and I do intend to return in some form to scientific research in the very near future.
The Grandiloquent Dictionary
1. Did you write the entire book? Why?
The entire book/website was written by me and is still maintained by me. I wrote the first draft as a text file for my own use when I use going away to university and couldn't take my collection of dictionaries with me. I kept track of the most interesting words, and never thought it would be used by anyone else. But in 1998 I published it on my webpage, again just for a few friends, and to my surprise it quickly garnered tens of thousands of hits and countless links. Since that time I have expanded it, and had a version published for sale, as well as having many other projects launched by like-minded individuals over the years.
2. Why the copyright page?
Originally I made it available without restriction, but then several individuals made copies and marketed them as original work. In one case my dictionary was being sold, using my name, but with the proceeds going to someone else. After that I was forced to add a copyright to it, simply to protect my own reputation and my work. However it will always be kept free for viewing online.
3. My browser/ISP says that the site is untrusted.
I have heard this from a few people, although not very many, but I cannot explain it. As far as I know there is nothing harmful on this website, but equally I have never gone to great lengths to keep it hidden or ultra-secure since it is really a trivial page with no important information. My speculation however is that the hit counter, which uses someone else's PHP script, may be seen by some systems as being a third party collecting information from users.
4. Why sell copies of the book when it is free online?
The most obvious reason is that paper and ink costs money, as does the printing process. But some people requested paper copies over the years, or copies that could be taken on buses and airplanes before the advent of the smartphone, and so I made arrangements through LuLu press. However the online version will always remain free in the spirit of opensource and creative commons projects.
5. I have a problem with my order / would like to order / need a delivery time.
I actually am not involved in the publishing of the hardcopies of the dictionary - that is handled entirely by Lulu press. My only involvement was in designing and preparing the book for printing, and authorizing its publication.
Programming & Software
1. Is all of the software on your site written by you?
Yes. Since I was about seven years old I have been programming computers, and I still maintain it as a hobby.
2. What language do you use?
3. Why give it all away for free?
I don't always. I have written quite a few commercial programs and applets over the years, but I have also benefited from several great opensource projects and so I feel it is my duty to give something back. Especially if the program is educational or promotes science and mathematics.
4. How can I learn to write programs? What language should I learn?
5. Can you program a special application or widget for me?
It depends on the project. In the past I have written commercial programs or portions of programs, and if you are interested in hiring me to write an app then we can probably work out an arrangement.
1. Did you build the robots displayed on this site?
For the most part they are all designed, constructed, and programmed solely by myself. When I use kits in my projects, I make note of it in the descriptions. For example the freeduino boards that I use are bought as kits and I assemble them, since they are so versatile and powerful that it would be a waste of effort to design my own interface for the Atmel chips. (And of course I don't etch my own integrated circuits either). But the designs and programs are entirely my own.
2. Where can I buy robots like yours?
As I wrote in the previous question, my robots are each custom designed and programmed. However both Robotshop.com and Solarbotics.com have a great selection of robotics kits and parts for sale at reasonable prices.
Photography & Artwork
1. Can I use your photo for my event / publication / merchandise?
I have licensed my photographs in the past for such things, so it is possible. However my work is copyrighted by me, so you must ask permission first. Usually we can work out something reasonable, and it hasn't yet been a problem.
2. I saw some of the same photos from your site being sold on a photography site.
Some of my photographs have been managed and marketed by stock photography companies, while a few others have appeared without my agreement. But most of them are authorized by me.
Books & Papers
1. Why don't you sell all of your books through Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Chapters?
I do have a few of them for sale through those stores, and I would like to do more. Unfortunately someone who has a personal vendetta against me (and yes, I do know who they are) started using the review sections of those online stores to write inappropriate and slanderous comments about myself and other family members. I spoke with the customer service staff at a couple of the sites, but they did not have any means to block this individual and so I had no choice but to limit my sales to the publisher's website and a few others that have better security on their reviews (as well as publishing a couple of my less technical books under a nom de plume). However I have still arranged to have a few of my books sold through other online and traditional bookstores, when there is sufficient interest expressed.
2. Why can't I leave reviews for your books?
For the reasons I gave above. I am a strong supporter of customer reviews, and I quite appreciate constructive criticism and debate about all of my work. Unfortunately following a series of events unrelated to my writings, certain individuals started using the reviews as a forum to hurt other people in my life and so I have been unfortunately forced to disable this feature where possible.
3. Can I get a copy of one of your research papers?
The Lost Decade (1998 - 2008)
1. Didn't you attend the University of Alberta?
Yes, for a matter of a few days or weeks. I started out as a graduate student at the University of Alberta, but because of my parent's health problems I was forced to transfer to the University of Victoria a short time later to tend to my parents. (And I mean no criticism of UVic here - it is a really great school and I really enjoyed studying there with a lot of great people. But I had wanted to live in another city and another province for a while before getting bogged down with responsibilities)
2. Why didn't you know how bad they were before you left?
I did know, but I couldn't get anyone else to pay attention. I opposed having my father in particular leave the hospital since there was no one to care for him, but the staff repeatedly assured me that there would be home care and support services. They lied. I filed paperwork to have my parents go into a long-term care bed or a care home, but it never happened. The staff assured me that if the time came for me to go away and the care home still hadn't taken them, they would immediately go back into the hospital. Again, they lied - when I went to make the arrangements they told me that there was no such program and I was entirely on my own. So I took off for Alberta anyway, but my family and the hospital system put up every figurative roadblock they could, and then bullied me into coming back. I was too young and naive to really handle the situation.
3. Why didn't your parent's go into a care home or stay in the hospital if they were that sick?
Excellent question. I have asked it myself many times in the past decade. They had medical insurance that covered it, and they certainly qualified for a space in a care home. I even filled out all of the application forms for a care home space. But for the entire decade, the hospital system just kept saying there were waitlists, or that specialized care was needed so only certain places could take them, or that the paperwork had been misplaced. I don't really know what went wrong, but for an entire decade I just kept being told "just look after them for a few more months".
4. And you didn't try to leave anyway?
I was a gullible kid of 21 when they first pressured me into it, and they threatened to leave my father on a street corner with the homeless if I didn't sacrifice my life and education to care for him (which I later learned was at least in part on my father's orders). After that I moved away from home at least five times, but each time various people would track me down and hound me day and night until I gave in (usually they would offer great rewards and aid, but then fail to deliver). Worse yet was that I later learned that my father was actively stopping me from leaving, by intercepting my mail, by using my identity to cancel applications, and by sending anonymous warnings and threats to prospective landlords and employers. A couple of times he actually sabotaged my truck so that I would be delayed in leaving. Being older and wiser I wouldn't fall for it again, but I was young and foolish then. By the time I was really able to deal with his behavioral issues and counter his old-boys network, the offers and opportunities had dried up.
5. So why didn't your older brother take the load?
Another very good question that was never really answered. He was living with our parents for the entire decade, unemployed for twenty years so there was no conflict with work, and three years older so he should have been better able to handle it. But for that entire decade I would look after them and handle everything for them while he watched TV or played. Sometimes various people would make allusions to my brother having mental health issues or an undisclosed developmental disability, but they never told me any details. Whatever the reason, I spent a decade working 80 hours per week to keep the family going and pay the bills, while he relaxed in our parents home, lived off of their disability pension, and did as little as possible to actually support himself or them. Even after our father died, my brother continued to be a burden and refused to even try to support himself.
6. This sounds odd - I know people who were sick around the same time and they didn't have half the trouble.
As do I. I have met a lot of people over the years who didn't have nearly the level of trouble I did. I cannot be certain of why that is, but it is worth mentioning that my father was a master of office politics and manipulations, and he did work in the hospital system for thirty years. He routinely boasted of knowing the system so well that he could manipulate the system to suit his own wishes. He also had a history in the 1980s and 1990s of loaning money to friends and coworkers, and then demanding unquestioning loyalty in return. And after eight years of looking after him he admitted that he had tried on at least four occasions to keep me from leaving home. After he died I found notes in his belongings that indicate there was an offer a care bed for him in that first summer, and he got his friends in the system to cancel it. Another note indicated that he had called a potential landlord of mine when I was working in Vancouver and pretended to be a former landlord giving a bad recommendation so that I would be refused an apartment. I also found letters addressed to me from different universities offering me scholarships to enroll with them, which he had intercepted and hidden to keep me from leaving. I know now for a fact that when I was in high school, he had a friend of his in the school system destroy several of my university applications. And shortly before he had the stroke, he embezzled $500,000 from his wife's investments and pension fund (and my college fund) to give away to a coworker/possible mistress. I do not know why he did those things, but perhaps the other people who had an easier time didn't have someone like him intentionally making it more difficult.
7. So what happened after the decade ended?
I was fortunate that after that horrible decade ended, I was still able to complete my doctorate at the University of Victoria. Unfortunately I still had responsibilities with my mother and brother (as well as a lot of work left to do on estate matters) and at present (2012) they are still not able to handle everything on their own. I am not as tied down as I was with my father's care, when I was working eighty hours per week just looking after him, but it is still a burden and takes up too much of my time. I am hoping that by next year I will have them sufficiently independent that I can travel again and refocus on my own life.
1. I have a comment or question on family history.
All of those FAQs have been moved to my more private website. However as a general rule, I don't maintain family information except for a very few direct family lines. I also do not maintain any family trees online anymore.
2. You wrote something on another website / on Facebook / on Twitter that I find offensive!
That is very unlikely. I rarely ever write anything that is in any way controversial - unless you get worked up over the latest news in astrophysics or mathematics. However at last count there were over 2000 accounts on Facebook of people sharing my name, and I know of dozens of websites operated by people who share my name. Add in the few incidents of identity theft that I know of, and the answer becomes clear. Someone else using the same name has written it rather than me.
3. Where do you actually live?
I have lived in a few places and wandered through many more. However at present I am living in the most beautiful city in the world, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (Although that is subject to change at any time)
4. Why do you tutor students still? Couldn't you be doing something bigger or more important?
I enjoy teaching students. I love to introduce students to the beauty and wonder of mathematics and physics. Too often teachers, especially at lower levels, make it rote memory and boring equations. I think it should be exciting for them, and we as physicists and mathematicians must find a way to light the fire of curiosity in our students. So although I do many projects and always have 'bigger and more important' things going on, I always try to make time to talk to students and even to the general public about science and mathematics, and to demonstrate its majestic beauty.
5. Could we hire you to give a lecture to our class/social club/association on physics/mathematics/robotics/technology?
I am not really doing lectures at the moment, but as with so many aspects of my life that could change at any time. If you are interested in hiring me to lecture on any subject that I am knowledgeable about (ie theoretical physics, astrophysics, particle physics, mathematics, robotics, general technology, etc) then contact me and we can discuss it. I usually work around the Victoria,BC and Vancouver,BC regions, but for the right price I will travel further.
6. So what do you actually do for a living?
Until a recently I worked as a physicist, primarily as a research assistant, teaching assistant, and lab instructor but I also did some tutoring as well. I had always planned to continue in academia and one day to hold a faculty position at one of the local universities, but when I had to take responsibility for my parent's care, that lifelong dream had to be put on hold. (And the economic meltdown, plus a moratorium on hiring new faculty in the province, haven't helped me either). So at present I do odd jobs, such as writing specialized computer algorithms or designing circuits for companies or the government, as well as earning royalties for my books and my photographs and artwork. I have also been fortunate to have some projects funded by generous government and private research grants and by crowd funding. The pay is not too bad, but I would still like to return either to academia or get into medical physics (which was another longtime interest for me). Only time will tell which path fate means for me to follow...