New beginnings

TL;DR summary: 2016 largely sucked for Spaf, with 2015 providing a downramp into the suck. 2017 is going to start with a sparkle (despite the awful prospects given by the US elections) because Dr. Pattie has entered stage left. Takeaways: be positive because unexpected things can happen, and don’t hesitate to make friends because they can change your life.


Some of my friends may have noticed a slowdown in my social activities over the last year+. I’ve never been a great correspondent, but this has been unusual. Of course, being in the wilds of Indiana also impedes connecting with people!

The last 18 months have not been especially pleasant for me, personally or professionally. For example, I was ousted from my position at CERIAS by a (now-former) dean for questionable reasons. Rather than do the right thing and overturn the decision, the provost was more concerned about stopping complaints and news reports of the decision; He did make me some promises to help lessen the impact — none of which he has followed through on. I’m now officially “Executive Director Emeritus” although it isn’t clear what that means.

As another example, I didn’t get my long-hoped-for sabbatical because of a bureaucratic snafu. As a result of that, I was assigned (with only a few weeks notice!) co-teaching a 400 student freshman intro course, with no text and some new, untested technology. It went about as poorly as could be expected from all that.

There was more, but I won’t belabor it because I’ve consistently tried to stay positive. Nonetheless, my life has built up a lot of stress and disappointment. It has contributed to a feeling of not really being valued or wanted at my university … or anywhere else… but I continue to try to find some positive outcomes. And they exist. I graduated two wonderful PhD students, Mohammed Almeshekah and Kelley Misata, and I have two more nearing completion. I handed off leadership of USACM to a great colleague, Stu Shapiro. And I was renewed as editor-in-chief of the oldest journal in cyber security, Computers & Security.

I also was very pleasantly surprised at the end of the year by being named as recipient of two major awards — the 2017 IFIP Kristian Beckman Award, and as a Sagamore of the Wabash. (Neither was publicly acknowledged by my department at Purdue, of course.)

Although not professional, the awful election results haven’t helped my mood any. I fear for where the world is heading, especially for my daughter, my nieces and nephews, and my current and former students. A world where ignorance and mendacity are rewarded, and where bigotry and hatred are encouraged, is not the world they (or anyone else) deserve.

Personally, well, that has had setbacks, too. I partially separated my shoulder 18 months back, and it then developed “frozen shoulder syndrome.” As Wikipedia notes (see the link) “Pain is usually constant, worse at night, and with cold weather. Certain movements or bumps can provoke episodes of tremendous pain and cramping.” Uh, yeah. Exactly that. By the way, typing is difficult, too. 6 months of physical therapy brought me back to 90% of normal. And I’ve continued to deal with some of the regular wear and tear associated with many years and miles. I’m not as old as my students think I am, but there are mornings getting out of bed (and climbing flights of stairs) where my body agrees with them more than with the calendar.

That might be enough for most people, but of course, not for me! In June, my divorce with Kathy, my wife of 30 years, was final. It was not hugely surprising in the long view — we have grown in different directions over many years. It was surprising in the timing though, and right while I was trying to cope with many of the things above. However, we don’t get to choose when everything happens in our lives and Kathy decided early in the year that it was time for her, so there we were.

The divorce was largely amicable. After all, working together against life’s various challenges over 30 years does bring a lot of connection, as does being co-parents to a wonderful daughter. Kathy is a complex, remarkable person, and we had a good run together. She has now embarked on a new chapter in life, and I wish her nothing but happiness. But, it was still more stress for me….

However, out of change and chaos, sometimes new possibilities arise.

While all the above was crashing down on me, I had several long-time friends corresponding with me, to encourage me. These are people who I’ve met over the years where we’ve had some connection that has developed into friendship online. We don’t see each other often, but we share experiences, stories, jokes, encouragement, and occasionally provide a virtual “hug.” Their support was really helpful. One in particular had wise words and great humor about how to cope with setbacks, the divorce, and more. She was someone I met nearly a dozen years ago when she and her then-husband were grad students at Purdue. I hadn’t seen her in person in a decade, but we kept in touch online. In the intervening years she had gotten divorced, gone back to school for her PhD, moved halfway across the continent, and gotten a faculty job teaching. She had positive advice that resonated with me, and her love of puns and bad jokes was delightful. (I realize not everyone would say that about puns. Your loss.) We corresponded more and more until we decided it was time to meet again in person and see exactly what might be developing. We did, and we liked each other even more in person than online.

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After several more meetings, Pattie spent most of the summer with me in Lafayette, helping me do a top-to-bottom clean-up of the house (I kept it after the divorce). Probably more than a literal ton of items that neither Kathy, Elizabeth nor I wanted was donated to charity, recycled, or simply dumped. I ran across things saved from my parents, my childhood, and family souvenirs from the last few decades. It was an emotionally trying time for me, but Pattie provided advice, humor, and affection. When my shoulder or back complained about the endless boxes, she was there to provide a helping hand and sometimes a wisecrack — a perfect mix of empathy and motivation.

After “Dr. Pattie” went back to teach in Louisiana, we had time apart, and we staged several visits and trips together when we could schedule them. The combination only confirmed for us that our paths should be joined rather than separate. So, Pattie resigned her position at the University of Louisiana Lafayette, and will be moving to West Lafayette, Indiana in late December. (Yes, Lafayette to Lafayette — one of many interesting coincidences.)

Oh, and just to tie up loose ends, we’re going to get married in 2017. We’re both old enough and experienced enough to know that what we have is special, and time is precious.

So, 2017 is going to get off to a really great start for me, and I’m hoping the overall trend stays positive. I hope it will for you, too. Best wishes to you for the holidays, and beyond

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Update: Pattie and I got married January 3rd. We picked the date because it is equidistant between our birthdays. Perhaps a nerdy reason, but there it is, and a great way to start off the new year.

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