Today, I’m thirty.

On balance I had a good last decade. Better than the one before it, at any rate. But—where did the time go? Why do I feel like I’m running out of time? Why does it seem that just yesterday I turned eighteen? If twelve years can fly by that quickly, then I’m going to wake up tomorrow and realize I’m in my forties.

But still, let’s look over the last decade.

In January 1995 I took CS101 at Cornell and met Prof. Leon Tabak. Going into that class I thought I was already a decent programmer. I was right. I was dead wrong about adequacy being enough, though. Prof. Tabak taught me the pride of programming well, even if he did have to completely shatter my self–confidence in order to do it. I’m a far better programmer today than I was ten years ago, but I’m far less certain of my competency than I was back then. For that, and for many other favors too numerous to list, thank you, Professor. It’s been an honor to know you.

In March 1995 my friend Shawn Capehart was murdered by Shawn Capehart. Some people say it was suicide, but that explanation has never made any sense to me. My friend Shawn was murdered; my friend Shawn murdered my friend. It's been ten years, Shawn, and I still miss you. And I still hate the bastard who killed you. Requiescat in pace; someday I might even be able to forgive you for what you did to me and so many others.

In September 1995 I discovered my roommate was going to be a freshman from Bettendorf. He loved Microsoft, thought Windows 95 was going to lead us to the Promised Land, and shortly learned better and became a UNIX zealot. Thanks, Doug. It’s been a helluva decade, and I couldn’t ask for a better friend. You’re the finest hacker I know, even if you are a Perl fiend. Here’s to cigars, here’s to philosophical debates about the art of computer programming, here’s to volumes of Knuth and autographed editions of Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. Here’s to many more cigars and many more books in the years to come. Here’s to art.

In September 1996 there was a woman, it lasted for two and a half years, it collapsed. As Corwin said in The Chronicles of Amber, “Enough! It diminishes me to remember you so.” And so I choose not to remember you—but I choose to remember the lessons learned. The lessons learned are not bad ones, are not cynical or jaundiced ones. Some of them are precious lessons, and I am grateful to have learned them.

In February 1998 my friend Cat Levy died in a car accident while she was home over block break. Our last conversation before she left was about our relative ages. She’d thought she was the oldest member of Chess and Games, but turns out I was a bit older. She teased me with “Can you hurry up and die or something, so that I can take your spot?” Less than a week later, she was gone. You’re now the second–youngest member of Chess and Games, Cat; only Shawn is younger than you. From second–oldest to second–youngest; there’s a symmetry of sorts there. Rest easy, and know we still miss you. When my number comes up, I expect you to have a sculpture made for me as a welcoming gift.

In May 1998 I graduated from Cornell with a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science. I was a nervous wreck leading up to graduation, mostly from the normal graduation jitters. Thanks, Chaplain, for taking the time to calm me down. Thanks for being confident, in a quiet and understated way, that things would work out for the best. You were right. They did. I'll stop in your office sometime soon, I promise. Thanks to the Chess and Games Club for favors too great to mention, both then and in the years since: Dave, Sylvia, Laura, Doug, Emily, Jenn, Aaron, Becky, Miranda, Flower, Justin, and many more whose LJ names I’ve forgotten.

In November 1999 I was let go from McLeodUSA. That set me on a road which ultimately led me to California. Despite the money I lost in California, despite the employment situation, despite the vacuity and raging intolerance I found there (try being a white male Republican Christian in San Francisco sometime, if you want to see what it’s like to be an oppressed minority), I loved California. I loved living in San Francisco. I loved living in San José. I’ve since lost touch with people from there—except keeping in peripheral contact with Len, I think—but I’m grateful for the experience.

At the very tail end of 2001 I returned to Iowa. Again, Prof. Tabak came to the rescue. I was at loose ends, unable to find technical employment and with far too much free time on my hands. When I have too much free time, I begin to go downhill fast. Prof. Tabak had a problem: thanks to personnel adjustments at Cornell, he didn’t have the time to sit in the computer labs and help people out with C programming. He couldn’t hire me as a TA due to budget constraints, but he could at least offer me a place where I could be useful. I found myself teaching people at the collegiate level for the first time, and discovered I really enjoyed it. When I came back to Iowa I was thinking about graduate school; the experience pseudo–TAing for Prof. Tabak persuaded me that I wanted to go to graduate school. I began getting my ducks in a row academically as a result, and in 2002 finally resolved a long–standing debate with Cornell over the status of one foreign language credit. Thanks, Professor.

In 2002 and 2003 I worked for a Cedar Rapids law firm as an interim system administrator. As it so happens, I got let go on my birthday. From anywhere else, that’d be a bitter memory. From them, it was just funny. They never treated me anything but right, and I hope that I treated them likewise. My manager, Cheyrl—and yes, that’s the spelling—is the only manager I’ve had whom I thought had the technical chops to effectively manage geeks. Cheyrl, you often repeated that you never finished your CS degree and your only programming experience was in COBOL, but let me tell you: you have better managerial skills for computer geeks than any of the people I worked for in San Francisco or San José. Thanks for being a pleasure to work with. Someday you’ll get tired of doing the sysadmin job yourself, and when that day comes, talk to me. My rates haven’t gone up all that much.

In late 2003 the University of Iowa finally realized “oh, crap, this guy’s been applying for a year now and we’ve never responded!” They were skeptical of me at first, and maybe with good reason. I was admitted first as a provisional student, but within a semester I was officially on the Master of Computer Science track. Thanks, Prof. Cremer, for taking a chance on me. Thanks, Prof. Segré, for being my advisor. And thanks muchly, Prof. Codenotti, for always having an open door and a tolerance for lambda jokes. You’re a true Knight of the Lambda Calculus, even if you’re in denial about it.

Now it’s January 2005. My MCS is in sight, and Doug has been doing a good job of persuading me to go for the full geek. I don’t know if I will or not, but... it is weighing heavily in my mind. Thanks to the CS Mafia: Bobby the Fish, Molly Scissorhands, the Killer Cardinal, the Cardinal–Infanté, the Altarboy, Bonnie Heather, Babyface and Ze Cherman. Thanks to the C++ Hackery class: Andrea, Greg, Laura, Meredith, and the new guy whose name I don’t remember (Dan? Occam’s Razor Soap Dan?). Life without you guys would still be living, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as cool. I know I don’t say this enough, but thanks for putting up with me. It’s good to have a home.

But this is not a eulogy; this is not a retrospective. This is a look back, and a look forward. I do not know what lives up ahead in the great undiscovered country of the future, but so far it’s looking pretty good. John, the Windows OpenLDAP geek, has a surprising amount of clue. Even if we do occupy diametrically opposed positions on the Kinsey Scale, it’s good to know you. Raven, here’s to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Mylia and Shelel, I’m glad I met you. In ten years I’m sure I’ll have glowing things about y’all to look back upon, too, and I look forward to making those memories.

The last round of thanks goes to the people who’ve been there for me throughout the last decade—period, no exceptions, no questions asked. To the people who financed my undergraduate education; who took time out of work to walk around Cedar Rapids with me in March of 1999 when my entire life had fallen apart; who encouraged me into going to California; who helped me survive a dot–com deathmarch; who didn’t say one unkind word when I returned a few years later; who encouraged me into graduate school; who are still there today.

Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Katherine. Thanks, Boots. I know I’m lousy at saying thank–yous. A lot of it’s because you’ve given so much that the inadequacy of a thank–you shames me.

My greatest accomplishment in thirty years hasn’t been anything educational or professional or even, for that matter, the personal. My greatest accomplishment has been this: my family are all friends, and my friends are all my family.

It isn’t a pretty good set of family I’ve picked up over the last thirty years.

It is the best.

Here’s looking forward to the next ten years.