I spent my “formative years” (i.e., elementary school) in England, where I quickly became what over there they call horse-mad. My teachers despaired of reading a writing assignment that did not involve horses. My first magazine submission (and so, first rejection) came at age 9 with a horse adventure that my dad painstakingly typed up from my handwritten manuscript. There is no cure for horse madness. I still write horses (or horse-like creatures*) into my stories.
I started reading science fiction with a stash of 50’s Astounding and Galaxy magazines I found in my grandparents’ attic when my Dad was serving in Vietnam and we were living with my mom’s parents. Turns out they were my Dad’s, hidden away when he’d been posted to South Korea. That year (1967), he also left behind one of his first purchases of Analog. Now I have a few decades worth of my own subscriptions, not to mention the several hundred books stacked on my shelves.
Thanks to Scholastic Books putting Volume 2 of Lord of the Rings into a junior-high school book-order offering, I layered a love of fantasy onto that English primary-school grounding in mythology, and only later learned that Tolkein wrote my all-time favorite books in an effort to develop a new mythology.
I discovered poetry after getting hooked on science fiction and fantasy, so a fair amount of my own poetry has an SFF flavor. I even sold a few to Hadrosaur Tales (the SF poetry magazine), which is no longer publishing but lives on via the internet. I edited literary magazines in high school and college, and it was fun, but that was a long time ago now, when mastodons roamed the prairie, I think. I like stories that deal with the borders between cultures: first-contact stories or stories where peoples (of whatever species) are trying to work out how to coexist or how to come together under difficult times. No surprise, that’s the kind of story I’ve been working on.
At present, I make money mostly by doing technical writing. I’ve got a lot of expertise in the electric power industry (from just a few decades of engineering consulting work in the field), so I work half-time with a company that handles writing for the Electric Power Research Institute. Some of time, I can get my name on the document, so it can go onto my c.v., which is nice. Other times, it’s something like being a high-powered ghost writer. I’m looking forward to getting off the bench and back into the analytical side. Need to know anything about solar panels, energy storage, network reliability, stuff like that? I’ve got a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and economic systems, and I’m not afraid to use it.
I’m also an avid photographer. In 2017, I took a dive into photojournalism, documenting marches and other protests in our area. I volunteered at the women’s march and was on the photography staff for the science march. It’s been heartbreaking to witness the constant attacks on science at the top levels of our current government, but it remains encouraging to see the real Americans come out to the streets in support of science.
Oh, and there are the robots. I was head judge for the junior division at RoboGames for many years, a follow-on to about ten years of coaching a small but determined local robotics team. RoboGames retired as of 2018; some friends and I launched a follow-on event called RoboJam at the 2019 MakerFaire–only to hear that would be MakerFaire’s last year.
I love meeting and talking with the kids who come with their creations, especially when you stumble across someone with true passion for making things that work. I hate that I can’t give out prizes to everybody but I love finding those rare parents who understand it isn’t the medals that are the reward of coming to an event like RoboGames–it’s the chance to meet and exchange ideas with people who have similar passions and to learn from their work. To keep my perspective on what being judged feels like, most years I also enter robots in the adult-level competitions. Here’s one of my LEGO robots in action. Check out the dragon wings.
I have come late to the gaming universe. Although I played Adventure (“The brick is already open.”) and DND (“You have encountered a Level 20 Dragonlord! You are dead!”) in the days of text-based games, I skipped the 80’s and 90’s and 00’s. It took the AR games to pull me back.
I currently play all of the Niantic games (and contribute time to build out the maps for all of them). That means I am a level 16 Ingress player (team Resistance, since even before the Great Orange Monster rose to power), a level 40 Pokemon Go player (team Mystic, of course), but only level 32 in Harry Potter Wizards Unite (Ravenclaw, entirely appropriately, and Tier 10 Magizoologist).
I struggle a little with the social elements of these games. Ingress players can get crazy serious about their territories, and Pokemon raiders can sometimes be too impatient to wait for one last player to arrive. But I think coping with those social-interaction elements is a useful learning experience–even if it means figuring out when to turn off the social media side of the game and focus on the value in the face-to-face interactions. Fellow players can be a comforting resource when game mechanics let you down, and I have had the opportunity to meet and play with some great folks who work at Niantic. Beyond that, my sons tell me that games are where storytelling happens these days, and I’m beginning to see what they’re talking about.
My paper credentials? Well, there’s that Ph.D. from Stanford, copies of “Weed” and “Prairie Weed,” those antedeluvian litmags I edited at North Dakota State, my twenty-page c.v. from working as power systems analyst (focus: energy efficient systems and power flow), and few nice thank-you notes for being an education volunteer. If you’re really into lists, feel free to read my LinkedIn profile.
When I first became The Science Mom, one teacher insisted it would inspire kids, especially girls, if she had them call me “Doctor Wray,” which made me uncomfortable–the scientists I know kind of sneer at people who insist on calling themselves “Doctor.” But I think that teacher had a point–it didn’t even occur to me to consider doing a doctorate until I was being interviewed for Master’s programs. The next generation of girls should be thinking of it as just one more option they have.
I’m fortunate to live embedded in a family of hypernerds. None of my family members has any responsibility for anything I write, but they are willing to be supportive. In the immediate circle, we have: a survivor of UC Berkeley’s undergraduate astrophysics program who’s now more into visual and auditory arts, a NASA physicist who reads tons of science and philosophy books and has erudite opinions on all of them, a UW biogeochemist who’s doubled up a PhD program to include astrobiology too, and a UCSB-trained engineer who’s pretty darn serious about good design.
*In All That Was Asked, look for the kazeran.