Has it really been 20 years?
In 1995, I first contributed a column to the precursor publication to Scientific Computing called Scientific Computing and Automation. It was entitled “New Rules for LIMS Project Justification and Implementation.” I wrote a few more columns that were published, and then in 1996, I was asked to become a monthly columnist for the magazine. My first “regular” column was written April 24, 1997 and was entitled “LIMS Requirements Specifications: Green Kryptonite for Scientists.” The colon separating the title and the gist of the column became a tradition for me, and I have used it ever since.
By the way, I didn’t pull these columns straight from memory — I am an unrepentant pack rat. I have every column I have written for those 20-some years. If you want to hear something really bizarre, I also have every email I have written since 1997. Yup, sitting right on my machine here and in numerous backups — every single e-mail I have sent, and tens of thousands I have received. Pack rat.
A few years ago, my wife said the vet suggested prednisone for our dog, which was 10 years old, and had an allergy. I read the prescription.
“Wait, I have some!” I went to a cabinet where I thought I’d put it a year or two earlier and gave the bottle to my wife.
“Ah, Randy, I don’t think this will work.”
“This prescription is older than Chester.”
It gets worse if you want to get beyond computer data. I have the first bank book from the time that my mom and I opened a joint savings account. I have art projects from junior high, including a seventh-grade key holder that I have used in every apartment and house I have had in my life — and it hangs on the wall just inside the entrance to my garage. I recently sent a picture of a straw basket to an old college swimming buddy — that was given to me as a gift for being in his wedding in the 70s. I have a book I forgot to return — from my elementary school: The Universe Between by Alan E. Nourse. God forbid they calculate the fees on that.
I also have this “thing” with my memory.
I remember phone numbers of grade school friends. I remember credit card numbers from the late 70s.
In 1979, I memorized Pi to 400 digits, thinking maybe I’d get the Guinness Record, unfortunately, it was 10,000+ digits back then (the current record is nearly 68,000 digits).
I remember faces, but paradoxically, I can forget a name while I’m shaking a person’s hand. I can remember my mom carrying me in a laundry basket and pointing to a plane skywriting. I asked her what they were writing. “It says ‘Randy’” (she didn’t remember this many years later, but I’m sure she was fibbing).
Regarding faces, about 10 years ago, we were in the Orlando airport after going to Disney. I pointed to a guy.
“Hey, he sat in front of us on the Splash Mountain ride yesterday.”
I was most proud of a discovery during the run of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I saw this actor playing an alien called a Cardassian. His eyes looked familiar. I was sure he was on an earlier episode. Sure enough, I compared the casts of both episodes and learned that it was Marco Rodriguez. I have attached both photos — can you see the resemblance? It’s in the eyes, I tell you.
In college, I found out that I was doing pretty well in the game show Jeopardy. In those days, I scheduled my classes so I could come home at noon and play. No fancy-schmancy electronics or displays in those days, just Art Fleming, Don Pardo and a board that had to have stage hands behind it to manually pull the cards blocking the answers.
I DVR Jeopardy each night and play along. My wife watches and blurts out the answers, but I admonish her: “Hey! It doesn’t count if it’s not in the form of a question!”
A few weeks ago, I was on a roll: “How do you DO that? What do you know about renaissance artists?”
“I don’t know anything.”
“Then how do you get those questions right?”
“I have no idea. Somewhere I must have read about it, and it stuck.”
“And you forget a couple of items a week at the grocery store?”
“Just one of life’s little mysteries, honey.”
A few years ago, I joined Facebook to keep up with classmates dating back to elementary school, many of whom are my friends to this day, college swimming buddies, and family back in Michigan. A few of my classmates started posting class pictures from elementary. The only problem is that there were no names for the pictures of the kids, and so they started asking for help in naming the people.
I found I was able to name probably 90 percent of the people in those photos, but when I started telling my old elementary friends where I sat in each class, and a few stories about the teachers, I received a good-humored note from my friend, Patti.
“Randy, you’re scaring me.”
A brief history of (elementary) time
Kindergarten: Miss Tracy. On the first day of school, before class started, I got into a fight and knocked a tooth out of a kid named Steve. I can take you to the exact spot where it happened, as the last time I was in Kalamazoo, I walked right to it. I used to compete with another friend, Kevin, to sit under the teacher’s chair when she read stories. My rug I napped on was multi-colored. There was a chart with a big shoe to help kids learn how to tie shoes. Art teacher’s name: Mrs. Lines (no joke). During kindergarten, my mom took me for swim lessons at the YWCA (yes, “W”), and I began competitive swimming four years later. One day, the teacher called my mom and said she thought I had mental issues (well, that goes without saying) because I wasn’t paying attention when she spoke to me. They took me to the doctor and found that I had developed such severe tonsillitis that I lost my hearing from an infection. When they tried to give me the gas for the surgery, I hit the surgeon with a straight jab-right cross combo. The hearing loss affected my speech and, after regaining my hearing, I had to be pulled out of class with the school nurse for speech lessons for a year and a half.
1st: Mrs. Taylor. Sat in the back row near the windows. Got into trouble for playfully pulling up the skirt of a girl named Ann. It didn’t go over well, and my mom was called to school. The first of many visits.
2nd: Mrs. Griffith. Her daughter was also in my class. I also sat by the windows, not paying attention, and pulled little beads of fabric off my sweater and let them loose in the updraft of the heating vents and imagining they were spacecraft. I did this for weeks until my mom busted me for ruining my sweaters.
3rd: Miss Thomas. Sat in the back row, second from the right. I was in back of a girl named Joy who told me that Miss Thomas said to put away our books. I replied, “I don’t give a %$#.” Joy ratted me out. I was sent out into the hall until my mom arrived to chat with the teacher about my language. Miss Thomas got married during the year and became Mrs. McComber. During her honeymoon, we were shoveled off into Mrs. Weinick’s classroom across the hall. After the honeymoon was over, and back in McComber’s class, a cute girl, Tina, grabbed me on the way out from class, pulled me behind a door, and gave me my first kiss. Her “boyfriend,” Kent, was none too pleased. Started writing with big fat yellow pencils. Due to poor handwriting, I was last in my class to have good enough writing to graduate to the brown thin pencils. The beginning of a pattern.
4th: Mrs Van Vorhees. I sat near the windows. I missed the day a kid named Bill tripped her and her wig came off. I remember taking a test that said to read all the instructions before writing anything. Most kids saw all the instructions and started writing immediately. I wasn’t fooled. The last of 20 instructions was to not answer any of the questions on the test. Jerry gave me his prism to take home for a while to study light. I insulted a kid named Claude in class. I was walking near my neighborhood when I came upon Claude and his older brother, who beat me up for my ill-chosen words. I mentioned this to my brother, Richard, who asked me to take him to the brother who was his age (five years older than me). Richard, who had a very short fuse, beat the snot out of him. Never had a problem with Claude or his brother after that. Due to my lack of handwriting progress, I was last in my class to graduate from thin pencils to ballpoint pens.
5th: Mrs. Ross. She was a golf partner of my mom, and I was In Like Flynn. She liked me, but I got sent to the Principal often (see below). I became interested in science and read a book about an amazing new technology: Lasers — The Light Fantastic. Sat in the back right corner of the room near the encyclopedia. I never listened in class, so I read every encyclopedia from cover to cover. Greatest thing in the world for ADD. Tired of Aardvarks? Well, Anvils and Arks were soon to come. Read every volume, every page, every word. When I hit the end of the Z’s, back to the A’s. Built a powerful foundation for those Jeopardy skills later in life. Reported for weeks during Show and Tell on a new species of lemur that had been discovered. I started to wear a squirt gun in a shoulder holster under a jacket, but abandoned the practice due to embarrassing leaks. A kid named Phil glued small mirrors in his glasses to see behind him. I lost my class audition for the Junior Civic Theater with my pantomime of a fisherman catching and gutting a fish before puking and passing out. Tough crowd. Due to poor handwriting, I was last in the class to move from ballpoint pens to cartridge pens.
6th: Miss Fortner. Hated me only slightly less than I hated her. Apparently, she had a pronounced bias against smartasses. Big break came when a student teacher from Poland took the class for a few weeks, then it was back to the Wicked Witch of the West. Tried different instruments: violin — my best of the lot, and I was horrible. Tried bassoon. Thought it would be fun, since it vaguely reminded me in spelling and shape of a bazooka. Had it for about two weeks and couldn’t get the slightest sound out of it. Moved to French Horn. Couldn’t get the slightest sound out of it either. Poof! End of my music career. Miss Fortner gave me an “A” in science, but included a note to my mom: “Randy is not working up to his ability.” Mom went in to speak with her about it. No love there.
Back in the 5th grade, I proudly established myself as the class clown, although like many suffering artists, my humor was not fully appreciated by Mrs. Ross, nor was my timing. This began a monotonous string of visits to the Principal, Mrs. Wise (this comes into play later).
I’d sit down in front of her desk and stare at all the owls on her desk (get it? Mrs. Wise — owls?). She’d start off on me, and I coped by imagining a wireframe model of myself standing up from my chair, walking out of the door of her office, then to the street, and walking down the street. A totally blank, emotionless expression plastered across my face, which seemed to infuriate her — pleasing me to no end.
One day, she said, “Do you know what your problem is?”
“You’re too big for your britches. Do you know what that means?”
I’m not sure what she said by way of explanation, because I was obviously busy looking at my pants to see if they were too small.
One time, she called me in and asked, “Do you know why you’re here?”
“No idea,” I replied.
“You don’t remember running over a girl’s ankle with your bike when you left school?”
“No.” (I honestly didn’t)
“Well, you broke her ankle. I’m taking your bike license for two weeks.”
I was righteously indignant, since I had no recollection of the incident, but accepted the sentence.
Regardless, at the end of each weekly vituperation, I’d imagine the wireframe Randy reintegrating with my body, and I’d agree to whatever she said, and return to my classroom, only to boomerang back the next week. My visits to Mrs. Wise seemed to settle into a predictable frequency of once a week, but tapered off when I got to the 6th grade.
About 14 years later, my father, who had been retired, took a job as a handyman for a condo complex in back of his house to fight off boredom. As luck would have it, he was fixing a furnace for a couple, and they asked his name.
“Wait, are you Randy Hice’s father?” asked the woman.
“Yes,” he replied hesitantly.
“Wonderful!” she said. “I’m Helen Wise. I was his Principal at Westwood. He was one character I’ll remember for the rest of my life. How is he?”
“Well, he’s out of college with a chemistry degree. He was captain of the swim team there. Oh, and he loves cooking.”
“Does he?” She went to her kitchen and pulled a cookbook from her shelf, autographed it, and asked my dad to give it to me.
She told my dad, “When he came to my office, I just never knew what to expect. I’d give him the worst stare, and it never seemed to affect him. Tell him I always loved him, even if he gave me absolute fits.”
I was shocked to get the book. To be honest, I thought I’d long since sent poor Mrs. Wise to an early grave. Strange how memory works. I had only one Principal to remember, Mrs. Wise had hundreds of students.
Maybe I had an impact on her.
I certainly remember.
Randy Hice is a leading authority in the field of laboratory informatics and currently works for a global healthcare company. He may be reached at editor@ScientificComputing.com.
Randy C. Hice | May 29, 2013 | Kindle Price: $4.99 | Available on Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and several other ebook outlets.