|The following is meant to be a journal of the main events in my life so far. It is very sparse right now, but I will try to fill it out if I ever get time. Last updated April, 2011.|
|I was Born Nov 9, 1967 in Summit NJ. I Grew up with my parents and sister Pam (who is 3 years older than me) in Warren NJ. Most of my relatives on my mother's side lived in Pennsylvania (many are still there). My grandparents on my father's side also lived in NJ (in Lakewood) about an hour away from us. They lived in Rahway when my father was growing up. My father's sister lived in Mississippi with her family. I have many fond memories of visiting all these relatives during holidays and vacations as I was growing up. Both my sister and I were always interested in producing artwork. My sister, Pam, has gone on to pursue a successful career as a freelance illustrator. You can see her art on the web.
When I was a child I remember playing army men and ball tag with some of my neighborhood buddies. Sometimes we would run around outside shooting each other with toy guns. We liked to hike around in the woods and go exploring. During the winter when we could walk on the river in back of my neighbor's house which would freeze over. Often the ice would break and we would fall into the river. This added to the fun.
I had a few close friends in High School. I can remember playing Board games like Risk and Stratego, and Dungeons and Dragons. I read a huge amount of science fiction and fantasy books. I discovered computers early in HS and spent many hours during the summer programming games of different sorts. My first computer was a TI99 4A with 16K of memory. It cost about $100 dollars and I hooked it up to my 13 inch black and white TV. I used it so much, I'm surprised it didn't wear out. One of the first games I made (sometime in 1983) was a city simulation game, where you owned a mideival city and competed with neighboring cities. You allocated money to planting crops and buying weapons and other activites. There were a lot of parameters to adjust. You had to find the right balance to win. Much of my early programming was in Turbo pascal. The actual progression of languages for me was Basic, Pascal, C++, and finally Java and Flex. I also programmed in Fortran, lisp, and c, but never for fun. Some other games I implemented were: Galactic Empire (send ships our to resource producing planets, while defending from other playters and the computer), MasterMind, checkers, pente, Conway's game of life, and many others. Besides games I have also implemented a Mandelbrot set viewer, a water simulation program based on a siggraph paper by Gavin Miller. I've recently redone the Pente program in java and architected so that it could be extended easily to any 2 player zero sum game with perfect information. I use the same framework for several other games. Another project I hope to get to someday is building virtual artificial creatures using genetic algorithms like Karl Sims did in his landmark 1994 siggraph paper.
The martial arts have always fascinated me. When I was young I attended a Saturday adult school program for Karate taught by Sensei Karvel Thornber. Sensei Thornber was a physicist at AT&T Bell Laboratories; karate was his hobby. The style was Modified Ninja Isshinryu karate. It was actually a hodgepodge of a lot of things including Shotokan - I was to later learn. I don't think we learned any actual ninjitsu - that was probably thrown into the name to attract more students. I started this program when I was in 3rd grade, and except for a few years, I continued with it until I graduated High School. I would go very early in the morning and stay through all four classes and go home about 1pm on Saturdays. I learned lots of katas (all of which I have forgotten today). Around this time I read a book in the library called Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere. At the time there was no where around to practice Aikido. This book was probably what caused me to seek and practice Aikido when I had an opportunity later.
I worked part time during my senior year at an small life Insurance company called Hartstein Associates. I wrote a mailing list program for them in pascal which they used for many years after I left. Most of the work I did for them was mundane data entry into Lotus and some envelope stuffing.
In June 1986 I graduated from Watchung Hills Regional High School in NJ. I was 6th in my class of 350. One of my best friends, Bill Keese, was valedictorian. Years later, Bill and I would work at competing software companies (he at BroadBase/Kana, me at Blue Martini Software) in Silicon Valley and meet regularly (usually to play Go). High school was a pretty positive experience overall. I had a lot of really great teachers. I remember when I was a freshman I got a C in the mid-level algebra class. I was struggling. Then in my sophomore year I somehow got into an honors trigonometry and pre-calculus class (in spite of teacher recommendations against it). We had a great teacher, Stanton. Benson, and there were a lot of very bright students in the class. It changed my life. I did better and learned more in that class than I ever did in the "easier" classes I had taken previously. I would not consider myself a math whiz at all, but my eyes were opened to the wonder and challenge of mathematics as a result of these early experiences. I had similar positive experiences taking the honors computer science (Mr. Momberg) and calculus (Alice Richmond) classes in my senior year. I took many advanced placement classes and did quite well on the exams - saving my parents a lot of dough on college tuition by earning quite a few college credits. I never enjoyed humanities classes much, but I managed to muddle through them. Later in life, howerver, I've become quite interested in economics and it history.
I started college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in September of 1986. I majored in Computer Science and Mathematics. I lived on campus in the dormitories until my senior year when I lived with 2 other roommates, John Roh and Michael Lam, in downtown Troy NY. I met a lot of interesting people here and generally had a good time. Everybody complained about the cafeteria food, but I loved it. I practiced a lot of Martial Arts during my college days in spite of having a 21 credit course load, and working 12 hours a week at GE Research & Development in Nisakyuna as an intern developing finite element models. My metor there was a wonderful mathematician named Moyyed Hussain. I went to Karate class on Monday and Wednesday, and Aikido on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. I also helped a friend teach Hapkido to kids once a week. I went to karate tournaments occasionally. I worked full time every summer as a research assistent (RA) or Intern. It was during my first summer working as a RA that I met a great Friend, Rich Mohrmann, who introduced me to a lot of activities outside of studying. I remember being so busy most of the time that I had to plan out every minute of every week on a sheet of paper that I carried around with me in my back pocket. I had trouble staying awake after eating lunch in the cafeteria. There was one class, complex variables, that was right after lunch and I always fell asleep. I often sat in the front row, hoping that might help me stay awake. When it came time for the big exam, I remember the instructor saying to me as he handed me the exam "I bet you won't fall asleep today".
I have a lot of funny stories about my rommate John Roh. He was always doing strange things. I should make a web page just for him. He would sleep through all his classes all day and study all night. If he remembered to get up for a test he would ace it and ruin the curve for everyone else. He is one of the most brilliant people I've ever met, yet was very short on common sense. He had a pile of parking tickets in the back of his car which he never paid. The police actually used to follow him around campus. They added the tickets to his tuition bill and wouldn't let him graduate until he paid douple the amount of the fines. He skipped gym class all semester one time and tried to make up all the gym classes for a semester in 2 days. We used to practice ninja training at night. Sometimes he would attack me at random moments to check my martial arts skills. He once hid in my closet and attacked me with an axe when I opened it. He was one of my best friends during college. Today he is CTO of a web hosting company in Chicago that he helped found, and also a professional poker player.
In May 1990, I graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BS in Computer Science. I had a double major in math and computer science, but somehow I was a few credits shy of getting 2 degrees ( I found out about this requirement at the last second). Forturnately, I was later able to transfer a few credits from graduate school and get the batchelors degree in math from RPI as well.
In June 1990, I started life as student-employee at UC Davis at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. My advisor was Nelson Max. The summers were fun when there were lots of interns to hang out with and do waterskiing, river tubing, camping, volleyball, and other activities with. Winters were less exciting. Mostly I practiced Aikido in Livermore where Jim Alverez was the head instructor. Throughout my youth, I have been very active physically. As a reult I have have many close calls and near death experiences. I think my kneck, back and joints will always have some pain as a result of the activities I partook of in my youth. I have had 4 knee surgeries, two of them ACL replacements for my right knee.
In Dec 1992 I graduated from UC Davis with an MS degree in Computer Science. Also at this time I got another BS degree in mathematics from Rensselaer. I spent one quarter at UC davis to take some classes not offered at the UC extension in Livermore. (That was the official reason. Actually I wanted to experience campus life again). During this time I continued my practice of Aikido in Livermove, Davis, and Fremont.
It was at the Fremont dojo that I met my wife and her wonderful family. I met Shanna in Oct 1992. Her full maiden name is Shanna Thanh Thi Trang Nguyen. For our first date I took her and a bunch of her nieces and nephews to see the movie Alladin in Milpitas. We went to Fresh Choice afterward. It was an interesting dinner conversation since she barely spoke english at the time. We went to aikido and 24 Hour Nautilus together for a while. Her mom wasn't thrilled about me dating her at first, but eventually came around. I'm told that I am now one of her favorite son in laws. Shanna has 7 sisters and 4 brothers. At the time most of them lived in the bay area.
In Jan 1993 I started working as a full time employee at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. I co-authored many research papers during this time together with Nelson Max and Roger Crawfis. We had a fun time developing new techniques for scalar and vector field visualization. The field was new and we had more ideas than we could implement. It was a 3 year internal research project. At the end of that time I could continue employment at LLNL or look elsewhere. I didn't spend much time interviewing. I was recruited by Mario Schkolnick to join the newly formed MineSet group at SGI.
In October 1995 I started working at Silicon Graphics Incorporated in Mountain View CA (before they changed their name to SGI - Servers, Graphics, Insight). At first I commuted from Fremont, but after a few agonizing months of that I decided to buy my first home. I bought a condo in Mountain View. For over 4 years my commute was a 10 minute bike ride. MineSet was an exciting project and I worked with a lot of smart people in the group. There were MineSet reunion dinners for years afterward.
On November 22, 1997 I married Shanna. We had a simple wedding with just Her mother, one sister, a niece, and my best friend, Bill Keese. I told my parents on the phone that we were going to get married a few days before and announced it to the rest of the family at thanksgiving.
In 1998 I learned to become a reading tutor through a library program. For about 8 months in 1998 I was a reading tutor for an adult who had not yet learned to read. This was an interesting and challenging experience. It is really hard for me to imagine going through life without knowing how to read, but a surprising number of adults are in this situation.
In 1998 SGI started to stumble badly. Our group was never affected by layoffs, but attractive opportunities elsewhere in the valley lured many of the veteran members away in 1999. I was the last of the long time engineers to leave. MineSet was developed for several years more at SGI after I left. A whole new group of engineers have been hired to work on it. Eventually, however, if was sold to Purple Insights (which later was acquired by Vero Insight)..
On April 20th of 1999 we had our son, Brian. Brian James Becker has been a joy beyond words. I cried at his birth. I am creating this website and journal largely as a legacy to him. We are surprised and entertained by Brian every day. We love him so much. Shanna had a smooth pregnancy, but a difficult birth. Brian was a bit uncooperative coming out, and needed to be delivered by cesarian at 5:14 AM on April 20, 1999. Brian took his first steps when only 10 months old.
In October of 1999, I took a 6 week sabbatical from work (this is one of the benefits of working at SGI - you get 6 week sabbaticals every 4 years). We spent 2 weeks in Texas with Shanna's sister's family, and 2 weeks with my parents.
On January 17, 2000 I started working at Blue Martini Software, an exciting e-commerce startup. We had a real roller coaster ride. In less than a year the number of employees went from under 100 to 600, and the stock went from $1 to $77. Then the dot-com bubble burst and the urgent demand for this type of software dropped dramatically. Many of our customers were dot-coms and went bankrupt. We had 2 rounds 30% of layoffs and several smaller ones. The stock went back down to $1. It was a tough time. I was foolishly optimistic about the company's future while I worked there. We had a great product and java-based architecture. I just couldn't see how it would fail with such a great team working on it.
In September 2001 I started getting serious about my hobby of writing a computer Go program on my computer. The Pente program I have posted on this site was just a warm up exercise. I also implemented checkers and chess as a warm up. Both are nearly unbeatable by humans in my opinion. The checkers game was very easy to implement once I have the overall infrastructure in place. Go is turning out to be much difficult. My goal will be to publish a book explaining my results along with the source code some day - or at least release the whole project as open source.
On Dec 10 2001, we paid off the mortgage on our condominium. We were finally debt free! (for a few years anyway) With the recent installation of our new oven we have replaced all the major appliances in the condo. We even got new powerflush toilets (from Toto). When we replaced our oven, they took too much out of the counter, so they had to replace the counter top too. Over the 6 years of living in our condo we have replaced nearly everything in it: carpet, paint, curtains, blinds, bathroom grout (which I did myself), dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave, stove, and oven.
In March or so of 2001 the MineSet project at SGI was finally shut down. All the ex-team members got together for a requiem dinner to memorialize the project. It was good to see everyone gathered together again one last time. That is not quite true. We were together for reunions quite a few more times in followingyears.
Brian at 3 years old is an absolute joy (and frustration). He is talking quite a bit now (mostly nonsense, but cute). He likes to pretend to read books out loud - making up the story as he goes along. We got him several more Thomas trains for X-mas - something he desperately wanted. We got him a bicycle for his 3rd birthday, but he doesn't like to ride it much yet even though he is able. At 3 1/2 we enrolled him in the Kumon school for math tutoring. Mostly he does connect the dot exercises and counts things up to 20. For more details on his milestones see Brian's Homepage.
We were at the park in the summer of 2002 when Brian gave us quite a scare by running off. I was on the playground with him at Lake Cunningham Park. We went there to have lunch after a visit to Raging Waters. I saw him go down the slide, and I thought he was circling around to come back up. What he really did, however, was circle around and keep on running in the opposite direction. We could not find him anywhere for about 15 minutes, and were startig to get really scared. Shanna searched the public restrooms and nearby picnic area, while I jogged in the other direction asking people if they had seen a lost 3 year old. I finally found him a few hundred yards away. A soccer player had found him crying and was walking him back toward the playground. We tried to explain to him that he should not run off like that, but I'm not sure he got it. Hope that never happens again.
In September 2002 we had another big layoff at Blue Martini. Our 5th in the last 7 quarters. Its a difficult time. We all hope the economy will turn around soon.
On Novermber 22, 2002 Shanna and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary. We have been together for 10 wonderful years now.
February 2003. Brian (almost 4) is reaching many big milestones these days. We are really proud of him. He can count and write numbers up to 100. He can sing songs and dance really well. He creates his own songs and dances. Until now, I have concentrated more on numbers than letters, but now we are practicing writing the letters in the alphabet, and playing simple games like hangman, and tic-tac-toe. He is amazing to watch on the computer. He is using it like a pro even though he can't read! He plays all the games on the Lego and other kid's websites.
He gets along with all his classmates at the daycare center, and plays with them for hours at the playground afterward. We noticed that he plays with the girls more than the boys. He has an imaginary friend called Chucky Mouse that is usually with him everywhere he goes. Brian blames Chucky Mouse for all the bad things he does. Brian has never had a problem wetting his bed. For a while we made him wear diapers at night, but since they were never wet in the morning we no longer bother. These days, he gets up in the morning and goes to the bathroom all by himself.
July 2004. We just moved to a new home in Union City in March. Now we are back in debt, but with a larger house. It has 2400 square feet as opposed to the 1100 that the old condo had (that we were in for 8 years). It even as a pretty sizable back yard - something we could not afford if we stayed in Mountain View. Union City is in the east bay just above Fremont. Brian is now 5 and progressing wonderfully. He can swim now and we go to the pool often. He reads reasonably well and can do basic multiplication. Grandma and Grandpa becker visited in July. They got a fish for Brian. He named it George. Blue Martini announced a bad quarter. Worried about impending layoffs. George died 10 days after we got him. In hindsight 2004 was not the best time to buy a big house, but at least is was better than buying in 2006.
October 2004. I did not get laid off from Blue Martini, but I decided to quit. I've joined a startup company called Metreo in Palo Alto. I took 2 weeks off between jobs to spend time with my familly and work on an XML based aikido technique builder application. Went to the visualization conference in Austin at my own expense this year. Brian was a vampire for halloween.
At Metreo I worked with the chief software architect, Hannes Marais, on a next generation pricing application called Vision. I worked on a number of new pricing specific charting components in SVG. In the summer of 2005, Hannes developed an incredible home-grown Ajax framework that allowed us to make tremendous progress in a short time. Unfortunately, the company ran out of money before we could really leverage the new technology that he had created. I stuck it out to the end, when we were all laid off in early January of 2006. Hannes went of to work by himself on software that would later be the basis for a new company called Kalexo.
I interviewed at a number of companies, and after considering a number of offers, decided to accept an offer from PROS in late February 2006. PROS is located in Houston, so I get to work from home in California, and visit Houston once a quarter or so. At PROS, I am working on a pricing analytics application that is not too much different that what we built at Metreo. One exciting aspect is that in the beginning of 2007, we decided to start porting the UI to Adobe Flex. When I visit Houston I practice aikido at Shobu dojo.
Working at home gives me more time to see my family. Brian is now in the 3rd grade. I see him when he first wakes up, and I see him when he comes home from school. I still try to give him occasional math lessons, but he does not always appreciate my efforts. Every night I read books to him for at least half an hour. Among the books I have read to him are the Hobbit, the whole Long of the Rings trilogy, Bored of the Rings (a parody), Everything I Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Enders Game, and the first three of the Thomas Covenent books by Stephen R Donaldson. Each book can take a few months, but it is an enjoyable process. I thought that by reading to him it would somehow encourage him to also become an avid reader, but so far it has not seemed to work very well. He still prefers video games to readin.
In September of 2008, the combination of overbuilding and overbuying finally came to an end with the bursting of the housing bubble. The effects rippled through the US economy and the world. The government passed a 700 billion dollar package to buy distressed mortgages. Not surprisingly, none of the money was actually used buy any mortgages. Instead it was mostly used to buy stock in failing financial institutions. It was overspending by consumers and the government that got the nation ino this mess, I'm a little confused about how even more spending of money that the government does not have is supposed to do anything but postpone and exacerbate the eventual pain that needs to be born. The current debt burden will not be sustainable when interest rates rise in a couple of years. I see no other outcome but severe inflation down the road.
Over the years I have been very disappointed in how our government spends taxpayer money. I don't think the government should ever spend more than it takes in in taxes. My political beliefs align very closely with the Libertarian party. I would like to see a more decentralized government in America. This is what the founding fathers envisioned. States should have autonomy in most matters, and the Federal gevernment should be limited.
In October of 2008, I took a break from aikido for a bit so I would have some time to catch up on some other pursuits. We began filming our Alien movie, but unfortunately 20th Century Fox did not give use permission to do a remake of the 1979 movie, Alien, starring Sigourney Weaver and Tom Skerrit. That puts a damper on our efforts, but I think our production will be covered under fair use if we take the approach of creating a parody. In November, I learned to roller skate. In December, I made an hdtv antenna out of coat hangers for my PlusTV PCI cards so I can watch hdtv on it. We just started with Netflix and that used up quite a bit of time too. Brian and I have had the lego mindstorms spread out in the living room for months. He made a cool shooter robot, and I am trying to create a holonomic drive, but am lacking a few pieces. I return to aikido occasionally, but I think my knees are all used up. Its sad to give it up since it was such a big part of my life for so long.
In 2009, I learned how to roller skate - forwards and backwards. It wasn't really something that I wanted to do, but Brian kept asking to go roller skating. We would go, pay our $20 for the afternoon and then skate. He would get tired of it after about 1/2 hour, but I didn't want the expense to go to waste so would end up skating for the rest of the day while he whined about wanting to go home.
Brian started taking Kajukenbo at the Dragon's Den in May 2008. I signed up for the open mat program that they have. I would work out with the weights and watch him for his class, and go in on Saturday and hit the punching bags or workout with whoever showed up that day.
I've volunteered to help out with the 5th grade after school math league program at Brian's school. Because of budget cutbacks, there is no funding, so I am making up all the material. Fortunately, another teacher volunteered her time and classroom so that the whole thing became possible.
From 2006 on, I build my own computers rather than buying them prebuild. I don't think I save any money doing this, but its a fun project to work on with Brian and my nephew, Duy. Duy works at Fry's and has a lot of experience building computers that he shares with me.
For more info about my life, see also
Near Death Experiences
My Psychological Profile
My Martial Arts Background