I originally posted this on SteemIt.com as an #introduceyourself post.
Hi. I’m Bryan. I code stuff.
I earned a Ph.D. in Physics for my work at Fermilab, while simultaneously being a Dad, entrepreneur, and gun-for-hire software developer.
Since then I’ve been coding stuff full time.
Blockchains are really rad. I like Bitcoin, Ethereum and of course STEEM.
I’ve participated in four Bitcoin hackathons and have won prizes at three.
I’m excited about STEEM 🙂
The Long Form
Me with the LEM. Unfortunately not the one on the Moon.
I was crazy about science and space travel and was sure I’d grow up to be an astronaut (I would listen to Kennedy’s speech on tape before going to bed at night).
Little did I know that the space race had kind of slowed down (luckily that has changed now).
(Yes, that is a Star Trek tie. The man on the right is my Grandfather. He was the most inspiring person I’ve ever known.)
I was raised Catholic and was the most annoying kid in the room. I questioned everything and think the priest deserves some kind of award for putting up with me (he is an awesome guy).
Eventually I realized that the church didn’t have all of the answers for me, and found out that maybe science did.
If you read the TL;DR this might surprise you a bit, but I was a horrible student up until about the 9th or 10th grade (I made up for it by attending what I call the 26th grade – or still being in school when you’re 31). I really didn’t see the point of a lot of the stuff they were teaching and would rather do things like play in the woods, play video games, ride my bike around town, play soccer, watch scifi, and read about all the amazing things that would happen when we went to space.
Most of my teachers said I would never be good at math (and I can’t really blame them).
So, what happened? Motivation came when I realized people were right that I needed to get better grades in math and science if I wanted to be an astronaut or scientist.
Also, my Mom was very supportive and did her best to help me improve my grades.
This took a long time but I got into a great private school (The Williston Northampton School) and went there for my Junior and Senior years – this changed my life. I made many lifelong friends and had a lot of fun. I was also captain of the swim team, president of the Star Trek club, and a varsity water polo player. Williston set me on track to succeed at University.
When I was about 16 I was thinking about joining the Navy’s nuclear engineer program. Then, two things happened. One, my best friend died and it affected me very deeply (I ended up dedicating my Ph.D. thesis to him). The thought of being around more death was more than I could handle. So, joining the military lost some of its appeal.
At around that time I read A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and it was all over for me.
I was in love with Physics and there was no going back.
I was lucky enough to have a computer in late 1980 something – an IBM PC my Dad bought (he used to code on punch cards). Taught myself BASIC from the manual. Those were the days 🙂
First saw a web page in 1993 in a friend’s dorm room at the Williston Northampton School. We were a bunch of nerds staring at a crappy web page but it was an amazing feeling. I knew this would be huge if enough people had access to it. I get the same feeling when I learn about promising new Blockchain technologies. For better or worse though, I focused on school for the next few years and didn’t start the next huge internet company.
Physics @ UMass
Even by the time I graduated from high school, my grades were not that amazing. But I was sure I wanted to be a physicist and the passion for it drove me to get into the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMass).
I enrolled as a physics major and hit the books for four years.
Not surprisingly, many of the students were ahead of me so I played a lot of catch up.
At one point I was sleeping every other night.
Leading up to finals week of Freshman year I didn’t sleep for five days because I thought I needed every minute possible to study.
In retrospect that was probably not the best idea, and I wouldn’t recommend it, but it got the job done.
I think physics is one of the most interesting and least forgiving subjects you can study.
We used to joke that physics majors were “The Few, The Proud, The Physics Majors”
But it was worth it.
I guess it’s pretty rare to get the kind of personal attention that physics majors get from amazing faculty at major research Universities.
In my Junior and Senior years it was not uncommon to have a professor who hailed from somewhere like Princeton teaching a dozen or less physics students. This trend continued into graduate school, and I feel very lucky for the chance to have learned from such amazing teachers.
I was more interested in theoretical ideas but we had to take required labs.
One of the labs was famously difficult – the lab was supposed to go from something like 1-4pm but the professor was so serious about it that he really wanted us to investigate things thoroughly (we did cool things like measuring the charge to mass ratio of the electron).
Often, we’d be there until midnight (!). We all thought it was crazy but it taught us that serious science is fun, but it’s not easy. And I’m grateful to have been able to do a lot of the experiments discussed in experiments with my own hands and see them with my own eyes.
It was fitting maybe, because – after much searching – I ended up doing experimental particle physics research at Fermilab.
I loved UMass and met several life long friends there. I did a lot more than study (parties were pretty common even in the engineering dorms), which probably didn’t help my GPA but if I could change it I don’t think I would. I graduated Cum Laude anyway so who am I to complain.
I got a gold sticker!
Computing Our Universe
I participated in the Computing our Universe Summer School at UMass in 1999 and was lucky enough to learn a bit about high performance computing from some amazing professors. Those guys were smart. It should maybe not surprise anyone that the web page is still up and thriving 🙂
(This means things.)
Love, Marriage, and Kids
In 1999 I married Gabby, the love of my life. This is a great story, maybe for another time as it would take over this post if I really got going on it.
Suffice to say we were (and are still) very much in love and we had our first Son, Peter, in 2000.
We were renting the first floor of a house built in 1775 in Framingham, MA and I was attending Boston University at the time.
I was the youngest person I knew to have a kid, and it didn’t make grad school any easier, but I wouldn’t trade Peter for anything.
Fast forward a few years and we had identical twin boys, Alex and Ben – this is an even longer story maybe and I’ll save the details for later but suffice it to say they were and are a miracle, I’m grateful they are healthy, and they are two of my best friends.
Physics @ Boston University
I applied to about a dozen graduate schools, and got into some and of course rejected by others (I’m looking at YOU Harvard and Princeton).
Two which I got into were the University of Arizona (more on this later), and Boston University.
I decided to go to Boston University with a goal of getting a Ph.D. and doing computational astrophysics.
It turns out that BU is a pretty demanding school but I learned a lot.
Our first year Quantum Mechanics book was so large that I used to get a workout by carrying it around.
The take home tests were a bitch. We had a week and there would “only” be five questions or so – but each question could have parts a – z if the professor wanted.
I remember still being awake at 5 in the morning working on this thing while Peter slept in the room next to me.
There’s a lot more to tell but you get the idea.
I was also a Teaching Fellow and spent a lot of time grading papers and teaching pre-med students to solve physics problems.
The physics grad students were a fun group and I made some great friends, but for me at least it wasn’t like Big Bang Theory – I never had the kind of time to screw around like those guys do (unlike many physicists, I still like the show but … it’s a TV comedy so, no it’s not accurate).
Those of a certain age will remember the term Webmaster 🙂
I became fascinated with web technologies and while attending grad school also learned a lot about the web, made several websites, and did contract jobs.
Without the income from these pursuits I could not have made it through school, but it was distracting at times.
I was a moderator at http://www.WebmasterWorld.com for many years and had a lot of fun at the PubCon conferences, where I was also a speaker. I’m very grateful for all of the hard work which Brett, Neil, and others, have put into that forum over the years.
In any case, I ended up really liking web dev and they ended up being useful skills when I entered the job market in 2007.
Rise of the Internet Whales
Steemit.com and the Steem blockchain is not the only place where whales have a lot of influence.
As we all know now, whales like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn were destined to dominate the internet.
I was an early adopter (had a Facebook account when only college students were allowed) and told everyone I knew about Google and Facebook and how they should join.
Google at least has given me a little love back by providing traffic to my websites.
Guess how much money I got from Facebook though – that’s right, zero dollars.
For this and other reasons I basically don’t use Facebook anymore.
This is one of the reasons I’m excited about Steem.
Reddit might be a closer cousin to Steemit – but I have similar problems with Reddit in the sense that it’s owned by a company which could do anything at any time (vs. something backed by the blockchain). Same goes for Medium.
Physics @ University of Arizona in Tucson
Partly because it turned out that BU didn’t have a lot in the way of active computational astrophysics research (or maybe no one wanted to tell me that lol), I ended up calling up the U of AZ after receiving my M.A. from BU. I asked if their offer was still good and they said yes, so I headed there to complete my Ph.D.
It was crazy in retrospect. Got a young child? Check. Got no money? Check. Don’t know anyone in Arizona? Check. Time to move there!
But I loved it. For whatever reason I felt like I fit in there in a way I hadn’t anywhere else.
The first couple of years were a little more like the Big Bang Theory than BU had been, but I was still taking and teaching classes so it was a lot of work.
The grad students used to go out drinking at local bars and have the craziest conversations – it was pretty fun really.
This is one thing I really miss about being out of academia now – being able to talk with kindred spirits about fun physics ideas all night.
I did end up almost doing computational astrophysics (worked for a summer for a professor doing that), but it didn’t seem to be panning out and I ended up getting recruited by my advisor who was doing research at Fermilab, and is now the Assistant Department Head at the U of AZ and working on problems at CERN (see my thesis if you are really interested in who my advisors were).
Fermilab and Particle Physics
This was a really amazing time because I felt like I was a part of something huge. Honestly I didn’t fully appreciate how huge, but I guess maybe enough.
Many students move to Fermilab, I told my advisor this might not work for me given my family situation (moving over a thousand miles was enough for a while).
I was lucky enough to be allowed to live in Tucson, and fly back and forth to Fermilab, sometimes staying for up to a month at a time.
There were so many smart people from all over the world that I felt like a moron every time I went there.
Most of them were very helpful though and they helped me to become a better scientist.
Running around the beam pipe (above ground) with fellow students from our group, working on the electronics, and getting to go inside the DZero detector during a shutdown were some of my favorite memories.
So, what did I do day to day? Usually I was writing code in C++ to analyze data from proton anti-proton collisions. This is where I learned that I could program all the time and enjoy it. There was more to it – I used Perl to automate processes, and also spent a lot of time putting together scientific papers. If you search for my name on arxiv.org you won’t find any papers where I’m first author though – many were published internally at Fermilab, and due to the nature of large collabortions like DZero, EVERYONE gets to be on the paper if they contributed at all, which may mean that they didn’t write a word but they did help make the analysis possible.
I got to be the guy that submitted a paper to arxiv.org once though:
Let’s be clear that without all of those people the analysis would not have been possible so I’m not knocking it – just sayin’
Eventually I finished my thesis – titled “Measurement of the W Boson Helicity in Top Quark Decays”.
Scintillating title huh? That was a particle physicist joke 🙂 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scintillator
Here’s a “plain english” summary of what that kind of means
To summarize – no we didn’t discover any new laws of physics or disprove any existing ones or find any new particles – but this is not uncommon.
By the time I graduated, I was ready to start doing more to support my family and was honestly a bit burnt out on all of the academic stuff.
So, I took a job as a “software developer” and have been doing that full time ever since.
Suffice it to say I’ve done pretty well and am still working full time doing some pretty interesting stuff.
See LinkedIn if you’re curious
Hiking, Camping and National Parks
I’ve always loved hiking and camping. The boys and I have been involved in Boy Scouts and have been lucky enough to visit a lot of great places in Arizona (see the Fossil Springs pics below), plus Catalina Island and the Bahamas (for a one week liveaboard on a sailboat). When I have time I’ll post pictures of these visits here 🙂
My family and I started going to National Parks a few years ago and have visited many amazing parks on summer vacations.
I can’t stress enough how great this has been – the subject for a longer post I think.
Here are some stock photos of my favorite parks to give you an idea of what they are like.
Yellowstone National Park
Zion National Park
Sequoia National Park
Grand Canyon National Park
Smoky Mountains National Park
image credit – me
Yosemite National Park
Rocky Mountains National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Grand Tetons National Park
We’ve been to many but there are a lot more. Gotta catch ’em all 🙂 According to this site we’ve been to all of the top 10 except for Glacier and Acadia. Looking forward to those.
I am so thankful for John Muir and fellow spirits who saved these amazing places for all mankind.
Bitcoin and Blockchains
In 2013, a coworker kept mentioning Bitcoin in an offhand fashion. It sounded kind of crazy but he was a really smart guy so I started thinking maybe there was something to it. Eventually I came to more of an understanding of it and I was hooked. It hit the things I love on so many levels (the wild west of technology, something that seems like it shouldn’t work but does, something that can empower and help individuals, and more).
Texas Bitcoin Conference 2014
In 2014 he convinced me to go to the Texas Bitcoin Conference in Austin – so we and another friend (won’t out him here, but he’s on Steemit) piled into the car and drove to Austin. This was not a short drive but what a road trip. Bitcoin deals were happening along the way. Good times.
The conference was great, and it made the whole Crypto thing more real for me.
Here’s a pic of me at the hackathon (third hacker in from the right) – if you look closely you’ll see some faces which you might recognize
I stayed up all night, got a prototype app working, and won a prize so that was fun too.
Thank you to Paul Snow (creator of Factom BTW), and everyone else who worked on it, for putting this conference together.
Money 20/20 Conference 2014
Next I attended the Money 20/20 conference in Las Vegas and participated in that Hackathon.
This was fun – I got to meet some really nice people from Blockchain.info and Chain.com, as well as some fellow hackers.
We wrote a prototype of an open source cold storage wallet which we called FreezeRay.
The idea is to use an old device like an iPhone, iPod, or Android as your cold storage device, and use QR codes to sign transactions.
Here’s a quick YouTube video of the very hacky prototype (we did actually sign a transaction using QR codes though)
Texas Bitcoin Conference 2015
We also attended the Texas conference in 2015, and again I entered and won a prize in the hackathon by working a bit on and submitting FreezeRay as a project (this hackathon allowed you to use past work)
I again won a prize and am very Grateful. The team from Vegas couldn’t be there but I shared the prize with them anyway.
However, due to lack of time and funds, FreezeRay has not become a reality.
We also had a lot of fun outside of the hackathon, including the after party at Brave New Books
Silicon Valley Bitcoin Hackathon
This was kind of a wildcard hackathon and was the last hackathon I attended.
It just sounded really fun to go to a hackathon in Silicon Valley (I had never been there) – and it was.
It was a little crazy though – unlike other hackathons it spanned two nights and a couple of locations (an hour apart).
The big upside to this though was that I got to see the Berkeley campus, which was beautiful.
Even better, I got to meet “whales” like Erik Vorhees (of ShapeShift and SatoshiDice fame https://twitter.com/ErikVoorhees) and Baliji Srinivasan (of 21.co https://twitter.com/balajis).
Plus it was fun to see Paul J. Vigna of “The Age of Cryptocurrency” https://www.amazon.com/Age-Cryptocurrency-Blockchain-Challenging-Economic/dp/1250081556/
Again, I was lucky enough to win a prize.
The best part was that I got to be on the cover of CoinDesk
It started becoming clear that, though I wanted to be involved with cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin, and the Blockchain, I didn’t have time to go all in given all of my other responsibilities.
A technically focused meetup seemed like a great way to meet local enthusiasts and stay current by talking with people and putting together talks about blockchain technologies.
For more than a year, I’ve been co-running the Blockchain Meetup in Phoenix, AZ, and have given several talks about blockchain technology.
(Side note: I’d love to see a distributed version of Meetup.com rise up!)
Here’s a pic of a recent meetup at Classic Crust Pizza in Phoenix, AZ – they even have a Bitcoin ATM woo hoo ! 🙂
image credit me
This has been great because local people have had a chance to meet up and also give talks on blockchain tech.
I love giving talks because it forces me to learn, so that I can teach.
Unfortunately not all of the talks recorded, but some of them were and they are available at YouTube.com (the Ethereum talks have been pretty popular – I haven’t made any money on those – thanks YouTube).
The talks are geared towards people who are interested in blockchain technology and/or might be interested in writing applications for them.
You won’t find Vitalik-level insights here but hopefully some useful info.
Hands On With Ethereum: Smart Contracts, Mining, and More
This is a little dated now (from January 2016) but people seem to like it (6,435 views as of Jul 30, 2016).
How to Build a DApp with Ethereum and MeteorJS (slides only – the audio is borked right now sorry)
Hands on With Ethereum: How to Use the Mix IDE to Develop a DApp
I just completed a three day water fast. That was pretty fun. If you haven’t noticed I’m obsessed with STEEM as well.
If you made it this far, congratulations and thank you. I’m not sure what the future will hold but have high hopes for Steem, Ethereum, and of course Bitcoin and all the coins we have or haven’t heard of yet.
Here I am at Comicon a few years ago