Thursday, August 4, 2016
Ran across a piece of paper...
I have no idea how my mom got this paper. It's the class scores and standing for the U.S. Navy Basic Electricity & Electronics Program (known colloquially as “BEEP” school). There are only two possibilities, realistically: either the school mailed it to her, or I gave it to her. The former, I think, is the more likely. To the best of my knowledge, mom never told me she had this. The paper is a single sheet of bond paper, with mimeographed class scores on it. For my younger readers, mimeographing was how we made copies of a document before we had copiers, and yes, I am that old. The paper is quite worn and dog-eared, and falling apart at the creases – it has obviously been folded and unfolded many times. This seems an odd artifact to garner my mom's attentions, but obviously it did.
BEEP school was a real turning point for me. It was the very first time I was ever in a class where the students were highly motivated, the subject was of great interest to me, and I had access to a first-class lab and library. I went to BEEP school in San Diego, right after getting out of boot camp. It was the first taste I had of the “real” Navy.
BEEP school, if I'm remembering correctly, had 18 “modules” of curriculum, each intended to last a week. Because BEEP school routinely enrolled students with anything from zero electronics exposure to credentialed electrical engineers, they started out each module with a test to see if you already knew the material – in which case you'd skip that module and move on to the next one. Your scores on the 18 modules were aggregated, and all who graduated in any given week were called a “class”. The class standing for each such class was then calculated and became part of your record.
At the time I took that test, in 1972, I had been a ham radio operator (with a general license) for just over 10 years. I'd been designing, building, troubleshooting, and operating radio receivers and transmitters for most of that time. I knew a thing or two about electronics, but I didn't really know how much I knew – I'd never had any way to measure myself relative to others.
The instructors at BEEP school told us that we should “test out” of as many modules as we could. Being the damned fool that I was (then), I took their advice to heart and worked my way through all 18 modules in two days. So ... instead of 18 glorious weeks in San Diego, where I could have been doing all sorts of fun things with all the free time I'd have because I already knew the material – I had just two days. Dang it! My classmates were incredulous that I could be so stupid as to blow that opportunity. They had far superior knowledge of the world's ways that I did. :)
On the other hand, I now had a measurement of my own skills in electronics compared with the other people in my class.I did very well on those module tests, well enough to be number one in my class – something that had never happened to me before. It's hard to overstate what an impact that had on me, mainly because it showed me that I could hold my own when it came to a technical subject. My further U.S. Navy schooling (these were “C” schools in Mare Island) just reinforced this confidence-building success. My instructors were very surprised when I told them that I'd had no class on electricity or electronics, being self-taught. They were also impressed that I also knew practical aspects (especially in terms of troubleshooting and, of all things, soldering). Even when they had engineers come through the school, they didn't generally have much in the way of practical experience. All of this was recognition on a level that I'd never experienced before. I was being treated with a respect that I'd never had, and that was a feeling I very much liked.
Even today, nearly 45 years later, those memories are powerful. And all brought back by a piece of paper that my mom (who didn't know anything I've written here) unaccountably had and saved...