On Leaving Lewis & Clark College, III

This was written primarily for the L&C community in April, 1997.

People always ask Why I have stayed at the college so long. For me it's always been more a question of Why should I leave?. Over the last five or so years, my answer to this question has been that a good position at TRIMET or METRO might pull me away. That position opened in March and so I had to follow my inner code.


How could I leave LC after nearly 25 years? My personal interests have shifted to transportation in the last several years, almost to the point of distraction. The new position will pay more and place me in the middle of traffic simulation, growth management, map-making, etc. The tour of the department after my interview left me with no doubt.


The ten years I spent teaching here were the best of times. After being re-hired in 1982 as an administrator I enjoyed moving the college along in many ways. But the years of teaching spoiled me. It has been difficult to work in an academic environment, but to not have the freedoms and responsibilities enjoyed by a faculty member. Helping faculty with computation has been somewhat rewarding, but not the same as doing your own research. So now I am going to an environment where I hope that I can contribute to the solution of serious problems facing our region. Something deep inside me is calling. In fairness to the college, I must leave.

Timeline of Last 25 Years

These things are recycled from my resume with elaboration. Note that I both worked in the computer center and taught from 1972 to 1975.

How I came to LC

When nearing graduation from WSU, I was putting together references for the inevitable job search. My letter to Dick Fields, whom I'd worked for at Gonzaga, was returned by a phone call. He was working for LC and said that of course he'd be a reference, but he asked, Why don't you just come to work for me?

Well, that was just too easy. So I checked out the college and found it intriguing. I determined that some courses were being offered in computer programming, so I considered the possibility that I might eventually work my way into teaching them. The next call I got from Dick was to tell me that there was a hitch in the job offer - the position also had to teach the computer classes half time. So I was on my way. Thanks Dick. I hope you are well.

Computer Center Era, 1972-75

When I came to LC, there was a punch-card IBM 1130 Computer with 8K words of memory (that's 16K bytes in today's parlance). We had a single removable disk of 512K Words, or one megabyte. We had 4 or 5 keypunches in the computer center and the registrar's office had one. We had a card sorter, reproducer, and interpreter. And we had a dozen or more steel cabinets full of 10's of thousands of cards.

I salvaged some the guts of the old-time equipment when it was taken out of service (c 1979).

I have several good stories I could tell from this era!

Instructor of Computer Science, also 1972-75

This was a great time at L&C. I wasn't much older than the students I was teaching and we all worked really hard on programming. The course was taken by all kinds of majors so it wasn't easy to satisfy the Business majors, Art majors and Math majors all at once. I let students choose from a list of assignments each time around, and define their own term project. Fortunately, Ken Pierce, chair of the Business Department at the time, thought that it was good for the business majors to NOT be catered to directly. Thanks Ken.

Timberline Lodge & City of Portland, 1975-76

I thought I was heading for a Canadian marriage and citizenship, so I dropped my teaching contract. When the Canadian connection fell through, I found myself at Timberline Lodge, from May 1975 to February 1976 as an indoor maintenance man. I was a carpenter, electrician, plumber, domestic water man, a sewage plant man, and head of the fire crew when on night duty.

In February 1976, I took a job downtown and maintained a waste water run-off computer model for the city engineer office (a Sewer Analysis Model!).

Back to Teaching, 1976-82

My replacement for the teaching position did not work out well at all. David Savage called to ask if I would consider coming back. So I worked half-time, three quarters time, and 5/6th time teaching Computer Science again. Thanks David.

High points of those years were hosting Buckminster Fuller's 1979 visit to Lewis & Clark, and volunteering to teach a course in General System Theory, (Spring 1977) where I challenged 28 or so LC students to design a self-sufficient colony to get them to cross over the boundaries of their disciplines.

All total as an Instructor of Computer Science I designed and taught 42 classes; supervised 24 independent studies; and authored Programming into BASIC featuring "The B-Machine", under contract with Benjamin/Cummings publisher. Follow the link to get the history on the book.

Eventually, the college wanted to legitimize computer science into a full-time position. Without a terminal degree, I was not qualified. But the search yielded no one that the committee regarded higher than me, so, thanks to John Abele, I was awarded the position anyway, but only for one year, 1981-82.

The next time around, the same thing almost happened again, but Harvey Shapiro arrived in town just after the deadline (Thanks, Harvey) and the committee went with him. The rest, shall we say, is history.

The System Manager, root, and Dialectician

So, I was out of work in September, 1982. But as luck would have it (or not have it), the system manager of the VAX/VMS system we were using left to work for Tektronix. Dick Fields knew that I already had most of the VMS skills needed and that I knew the administrative side of things. So he called again to ask if I would like to be [SYSTEM]. (VMS-ese for system manager, or root). Naturally. I obliged the College one more time, and started my non-faculty stay of 15 years. I migrated all academic accounts to BSD 4.3 Unix on a VAX in 1987 and did other grade and credit conversions for the undergraduate and law schools.

During one of many organizational experiments (Office of Computing Services), and in response to a grant that John Abele, Ellen Jean and I proposed to Apple Computer (Thanks to Jeff Anderson for keeping us on track), I headed a Software Development Lab that designed the Electronic Dialectical Notebook for Susan Kirschner. Together with Dan Revel as programmer, we won the EDUCOM Award: National Center for Research to Improve Postsecondary Teaching and Learning -- Best Curriculum Innovation in Writing, in November 1988.

1988-89 Sabbatical

Thanks to Randy Collver, I got a year off with some pay in 1988-89.

During that year I mostly forgot about Lewis & Clark College and got overcommitted to citizen participation. I was president of the Southwest Portland neighborhood district coalition (SWNI) and chair of the Multnomah County Citizen Involvement Committee (MCIC). I organized a multi-county citizen involvement conference. The MCIC produced an impressive report, County Visions: The 1990's and Beyond.

While on sabbatical, I was introduced to Cynthia Stowell by Karen King and Ellen Jean. Cynthia and I were married in 1989 before I went back to work for L&C. Our son 'Gus' was born in 1990.

The 1990's

L&C joined the Internet in 1991, and we also replaced the VAX with a Sun 4/490 running SunOS. We replaced the Sun 4/90 with a Digital Alpha 2100 server running Digital Unix. The 90's saw the explosive growth of networking on campus, the birth and death of "gopher", and now, the World Wide Web. In about May of 1994, it was obvious to me that I'd be spending a good share of my time doing web programming and support, so I converted most anything I had in (ascii) text files or Macintosh documents into HTML for my Home Page, and I added GIF format to my graphics package so I could render my drawings for the web.

Year 2000 and beyond

I worked for Metro from 1997 to 2010. After I retired, I learned iOS programming and became an independent iOS Developer, for fun.

BTW - When the staff changed at the college, my miller L&C E-mail address was retired and I can no longer access it. (Update - Brad Wilkin rectified that, and I do now have access.) But my home page at the college ceased to be served, so I set up my own site. Many links on the web and on paper refer to my lclark.edu/~miller pages, but that's life on the internet. Google can find those pages, and so can you, on my new home DIALECTRIX.COM.