In 1989, I was working as a Quality Assurance Inspector at Orbital Sciences in Chandler, Arizona, a position I had been promoted to after working on the Receiving Docks at the company, which in itself was a position my father, David Gregory, an (awesome) CAD designer, had helped me obtain fresh out of High School.
Bill Glomski had just recently graduated from Arizona State University with an Electrical Engineering degree, and he and I hit it off pretty quickly when I’d call him down to review components which didn’t quite meet stringent standards for his project, but I preferred acting as a catalyst, not an impediment, and understood that quality and efficiency were a careful balancing act that required coordination with the engineers.
Some engineers were real jerks to work with. Bill was not. My cooperation with the engineers was always a direct reflection of their personality.
So in 1990, I was being promoted to Software Engineer, and confided to very few people at the time that I had nearly been taken away in handcuffs after being offered a job in software or jail for hacking through the payroll systems.
Bill was one of my confidants.
I’d been a computer hacker and programmer since 1980 anyways.
Shortly after, I was going through a divorce from Donna Suppes, my first wife who I had caught cheating on me with Chris Damron, and I was pretty torn up.
Bill was looking for a roommate, and already had a Mechanical Engineer from Colorado State University, Brad Uhlig, and an Aeronautical Engineer moving out was a goofy yuppie named Rob Withers, with Perry Gordon – another Aeronautical Engineer.
This was perfect timing, providing a well needed social network at a pretty dark time in my life.
The house parties we threw back then were outrageous. 300 people sometimes, where we warned the neighbors before the parties. And in the offtime, Bill and I would bullshit about esoteric topics – he had a deep appreciation and respect for computer science, and conversely, I did for his field in electronic and electrical engineering. That and philosophy.
The crazy drunk memories I have with that guy… One time I had a rented car, I was with him, his sister and a friend of his driving when Bill pulls the emergency brake at 90 mph. Not long after, we jumped the car through an intersection, literally, and my passengers were all chewing tobacco, I dont think anyone’s chew stayed in their mouth we hit so hard on the landing. It was all over the inside of the car.
And then there’s the drunken backflips off the roof of the house into the pool.
Unfortunately, we grew up and the friendship grew apart….
… Move forward in time a couple years…
In August of 2009, I was sent with two others by my employer, the NSA, to play a part of the observation team at CERN in Geneva.
Now why in the hell would three computer geeks be sent to witness history at CERN you ask?
It was the consolation prize.
In 2003, I was doing a ‘tour of Europe’ for both personal and professional reasons, when I was sent to the Vatican to retrieve a package.
My orders were simple: It was not to be opened, under any circumstances, and I was to guard it with my life.
I was obedient, and I didn’t open it, at the time not having any clue what I was retrieving for the government, and I almost never found out what was in it.
It wasn’t until nearly two years later I received a request for my participation, and a night at the gorgeous Hotel Monaco in Portland.
My attendance was mandatory and required extreme discretion.
The NSA adds the word ‘extreme‘ when your visit must NOT be for business reasons, and you’re required to bring a sexual partner if you’re in a location overnight to make the visit look and sound completely authentic. It’s their way of stating the meeting is THAT important, that they are willing to take calculated risks.
Not having a girlfriend or any girl I was dating at the time, I reluctantly leveraged the NSA’s resources for the first time to find a fake girlfriend, Amy Newton, who actually put out.
A woman who, consequently, I made a really poor decision to marry not long after. That lasted less than a year. Shoot me now.
But I digress.
On arrival we checked into one of the Hotel Monaco’s standard rooms which is gorgeous by any standards, a room which included an awesome view overlooking downtown Portland (which can be quite fantastic) and a bed which felt like I was floating on clouds. Best_sleep_ever! I even bought a comforter just like it afterwards!
And not long after check-in, while Amy was getting ready, I dismissed myself to the lounge but slipped over to meet with my contacts in a suite near the top floor.
It’s about then I realize, that the mysterious box would soon have it’s mystery unraveled, as smack dab in the middle of the table is the box.
But oddly enough, still unopened!
“What’s in the box, what’s in the box?”
This added levity to the moment, and my director at the time, who was in attendance, said to me “Open it up”
“Is this some kind of joke? Why didn’t you open it?,” I asked.
“We wanted to make sure we had the right man on the job,” he responded.
I was suspicious, and he could tell it.
“Brian, just open it, this is your next assignment,” he said, commandingly.
I finally conceded, and opened the small box that was a tad larger than a brick, and once opened revealed dense padding, surrounding pretty dense rubber, and then this:
All protecting “Slides?,” I queried.
“Stabilized Dark Matter,” my director responded.
I laughed, “What the hell does this have to do with me?”
Not long after the meeting in 2005, I learned I had been hand picked by an electrical engineer and good friend I had lost touch with – a one Bill Glomski.
As it turned out – Bill had been doing advanced holographic research for the government through the ‘front’ educational company Embry Riddle, and had had the government pressuring him for months for him to conclude his holographic work.
He was up against a wall, but didn’t trust anyone to ‘screw with his code’ – until he spotted my name on a very short list of people with the clearance and qualifications necessary to help him out.
… So from 2005 through 2007, I was lead architect and designer of the software for a proprietary microscopic analysis system which allowed for views and capturing of imagery of matter leveraging photons.
ie: Scanning Photonic Microscopy
It was just like old times.
The goals of this project were simple: To achieve the same resolution of microscopy as the Scanning Electron Microscopes, and then to surpass it and provide an ‘unbiased glimpse’ of what was happening at the subatomic levels of matter.
The deliverable: Photonic snapshots – real, live pictures – of a single isolated atom of something called dark matter.
A bonus: To capture subatomic imagery, if possible – ie: ZOOM in, past the atomic level.
Dan Brown wrote about dark matter in his book ‘The Davinci Code‘. The true part of that story is that the Vatican has invested enormous amounts of money in science and had collected a small amount of the dark stuff, all while stabilizing it enough to carry it in a backpack. Reality mirrors fiction so often…
So within a year’s time, I learned Bill’s coding skills still left a lot to be desired, but together we’d managed to stabilize and focus the imagery on a single isolated atom of dark matter.
Within a year and a half, we’d gone much deeper.
So much deeper.
We had been given 100 Dark Matter atoms on 100 different slides. Each was named something incoherent and totally unmemorable. So we created mnemonics to remember what sample we were working with.
Each dark matter specimen was named according to Star Trek fictional planets.
The following images are from ‘kfr_vulcan_ground’.
The prefix kfr_ was for the lot sample we’d been given, not knowing what it meant, but we decided to preserve it just in case it had meaning or we received more.
Vulcan was what we ‘named’ this dark matter atom, in deep respect for Spock and his home planet of Vulcan.
Ground was the observation angle label we used to make it easier to figure out the orientation rather than having to calculate the vector information.
This first image is the first truely isolated dark matter image we got using the Scanning Photonic Microscope.
Nothin spectacular, right? Looks like a black hole, only, what was with the ‘marks’ on the outer edges? At first we thought it was a lens flare effect of the edges of the photon scanning. Wrong.
Zooming in closer:
At first we dismissed what we saw as who knows what for a problem. It just wasn’t making logical sense what we were seeing. So we zoomed further.
Cue “The Twilight Zone” theme… This was definitively looking like … terrain? Imagery that looked similar to what scanning electron microscopes see, that’s for sure, but… why is it ‘forming’ as we zoom in? Zooming in more…
This is where things began to get freaky. Now why, pre-tel, do we have what appears to be a postage stamp square in the middle of this sample? We zoomed in more…
TThe mystery.. deepens. Definitely a rectangular structure… Zooming in more..
… and zooming in more…
We were finding no limits to the level of zoom we could achieve once we pierced the sub atomic realm. But now we were starting to see .. structure within it?
zooming in more…
definitely structure down there…..and … are those buildings?
zooming in more…
II about shit myself when I first saw these images.
“They can’t be real. He’s fucking with me.”
zooming in ….and once more….
I’d always been a scientist first.
But this was calling to question the nature of creation itself…
What came first. The ox or the cart?
So when we named the slides, we’d invariably see evidence of a digital version of the slide’s name and it’s likeness to the corresponding thing it was named to.
That is, We named one as Earth, and soon found ourselves obtaining digital versions of Earth circa 2400, complete with Starfleet. One we named Risa, and we got a tiny version of Risa. Another we named Bajor. Another Q’Nos (Klingon homeworld), and so on.
What came first, what we assigned for the name, or it’s actual name being given to us through some form of quantum entanglement?
Then there were those slides that elicited nothing with their names: Bynar, Cardassia, Romulus. Then there were a few with other names we made up: Syngarius, H’rokal.
We tried renaming a few, to see if the results changed, and while we did see some changes in structures for the ones we tried renaming – Earth we tried renaming to Gallifrey in honor of Doctor Who, the net result was – the changes wouldn’t stick.
What we had a difficult time determining was – is the quantum world interacting with our mind to create the name for this entity? Or are we of free will coming up with a name for this entity?
Analogize this to an offspring naming him or herself or itself in the womb…
In any case. In late 2007, what is arguably one of the most important discoveries in mankind’s history, we presented our findings, excitedly to the project’s financers.
We suddenly found ourselves baffled by the response we received.
The project was immediately shut down, all material confiscated, and was subsequently classified beyond our level of clearance – which we both were surprised to learn even existed.
And the most heartbreaking:
Bill and I were banned from further contact.
Bill tried to meet up after this ban, and I, like a trained monkey, followed orders obediently and made up an excuse to ditch him.
I’m an asshole. And Bill, please accept this as my formal apology.
What I didn’t do was destroy all the imagery.
In any case. In 2009, I had been sent to Geneva, Switzerland, to witness someone else’s discovery of a lifetime. It’s a cool consolation prize, don’t get me wrong. But still…
I couldn’t take a photo at CERN (not authorized), but here’s a few photos of me and the scenery touring with my consolation prize – a trip to Geneva under cover with my ‘Thunderbird’ class.
I hope these images atone for my poor choice of career over family and friends, Bill.
And again, I am sorry, Bill. You’re one of the most inspirational guys I’ve ever had the opportunity to both befriend and work alongside.
Thank you for the memories!
Enjoy the pics of Geneva. It’s beautiful there!
And there better be a damned good reason what we’ve done isn’t going in history books.
Or there will be hell to pay.
And I do not mean that in a figurative sense.