Norman Koren autobiography
Summary and early years home
family history
I'll begin with a summary of my life, then move on to details and stories.
I was born October 3, 1943 in Rochester, NY, the only child of parents who were nearly forty at the time. I lived with them in their duplex house on 28 Darwin Street until I left for college. I attended Number 1 Elementary school and Monroe High School, graduating in 1961. When I was 9 I became interested in nature and birdwatching. That interest faded, but at 12 I discovered shortwave radio. I got my radio ham license the day after my 13th birthday, the day the Soviet Union launched Sputnik (October 4, 1957). I spent a good deal of time trying to improve the sound of old console radios, and I even built some push-pull vacuum tube amplifiers from scratch. I've always loved music, especially classical, but I lack the ability to make the music I hear inside. I can, however, sketch and draw rather well. I was quite nerdy (radio was what nerds did before computers). In high school I dated occasionally, but I definitely wasn't part of the social scene. Girls regarded me as useful for solving physics problems.

I majored in physics at Brown University, graduating in 1965. I chose physics because some radio ham friends convinced me it was the key to understanding the mysteries of the universe, but I began to have my doubts. I cultivated a great many interests: art, peace activism, idealistic left-wing politics, and photography, among others. I briefly considered switching to architecture, but Brown didn't offer an architecture program and I didn't have the passion and resources to pursue it elsewhere.

I spent two years getting my Master's in physics at Wayne State University in Detroit. Living in Detroit was an intense and traumatic experience; I felt alienated from mainstream society. The Vietnam was was just reaching its peak, and I strongly opposed it at a time when most Americans still supported it. My friends were part of the counterculture-- an artist and several graduate students in the humanities. I stayed in Detroit during the colorful summer of 1967 when the hippies descended on San Francisco.

In September 1967 I started my first full time job at Honeywell Electronic Data Processing in Waltham, Massachusetts, on Route 128 west of Boston (the birthplace of high tech industries before they migrated to California). The field was magnetic tape and disk recording, which interested me because I'd spent a lot of time in high school maintaining my Wollensack recorder, which sounded great in those rare moments when it worked right. It was the start of a lifelong career. I lived in a two bedroom apartment in Brighton, a rather pleasant neighborhood a few miles west of downtown Boston. I was intensely involved in photography-- I had a darkroom in one of the bedrooms-- and I went hiking when the weather permitted. In 1969 I met Nancy, an artist and eventually the mother of my two children, at a life drawing class in Cambridge. When Honeywell relocated to Billerica, north of Boston, we rented a little two hundred year old house in Winchester, a rather lovely old town about ten miles north of Boston. In July 1970 Honeywell announced that they were going to transfer our entire department to Oklahoma City. I knew beyond doubt I didn't want to move there. Here's a bit of synchronicity: The reason for the transfer was that Honeywell purchased the GE computer division. I just checked the Internet to find some links, and saw the announcement that GE is purchasing Honeywell.

My next stop was Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia, where I worked for Sperry Univac (now Unisys), the company that invented the computer. I'd occasionally see the inventor himself, J. Presper Eckert, wandering through the halls. I never met him; I've been told I was fortunate: he was incredibly arrogant. We rented a small house next to a summer day camp in Blue Bell, close enough to walk or bicycle to Univac. I continued my passionate involvement with photography, often wandering with my cameras through old towns like Reading. Pennsylvania lacked the sweeping natural landscapes I loved (and still love) to photograph. For a while I had the pleasure of teaching an evening class at the Fleisher Art Memorial, a free evening art school in South Philly, administered by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 1973 Univac purchased a disk drive company called ISS in Cupertino, California, and gave many of its Blue Bell employees the opportunity to transfer. I couldn't resist the siren call of the land of John Muir, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and Wynn Bullock.

Cupertino was a patchwork of high technology office parks, suburban subdivisions, and orchards on the western side of Santa Clara Valley, which was just then becomming known as Silicon Valley. We found much of the valley to be excessively bland, so we rented a tiny house in Saratoga, an older community in the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains, and in 1974 we bought a house in nearby Los Gatos. It wasn't much (a pretty basic starter house), but it was on a 1/4 acre lot: enough for a large garden. It turned out to be an outrageously great investment, increasing six times in value by the time we sold it in 1988. I probably couldn't afford it now. I continued my involvement with photography, and went hiking in the Santa Cruz mountains and the Sierras whenever I could. My sons Nathan was and Henry ware born in 1976 and 1979. In 1982 I went to work at a startup called Applied Information Memories (AIM). It crashed and burned in 1985 along with my marriage (a stressful year). The Silicon Valley dream is to get rich and get out. I couldn't find another job there so I achieved half the dream by taking a job with Kodak in San Diego.

San Diego was a decent and delightful place to live, but I had to overcome my deeply ingrained Northern Californian prejudice against Southern California. It wasn't easy moving from the land of the environmentally sensitive and spiritually evolved to the land of the shallow Hollywood hustler. It took me years to see through the (mostly) false stereotypes. By now, Silicon Valley hustlers have far outstripped their Hollywood counterparts. That of course that could change overnight thanks to the dot com crash, but I no longer care. I wasn't deeply involved in photography while I lived in San Diego (actually, Encinitas, a pleasant beach town about 25 miles north of San Diego). It wasn't until I moved to Boulder and got back into darkroom work via the computer that was I able to make fine prints of pictures I took while I lived there. My old interest in audio was rekindled in a big way. I got into collecting LP records, which people were unloading cheaply thanks to the CD, and I designed and built vacuum tube amplifiers with the help of the PSpice computer program. When Kodak was shutting down its San Diego labs in 1998, I briefly considered getting into the audio business, but sanity prevailed. I went through some difficult relationships, including three years with a woman I later learned had borderline personality disorder, characterized by intermittent raging temper tantrums. Real Jekyll and Hyde stuff. Things got much better when I met Louise Marks in 1992. We purchased a large and wonderful house in Olivenhain (inland Encinitas near Rancho Santa Fe) at the end of 1994. It was in forclosure when we bought it. I thought we'd make a killing on it, but the timing wasn't quite right when we sold it. We came out a little ahead.

In November 1997 Kodak announced that it was looking for a buyer for the San Diego Labs. Apparently Hewlett Packard had tried to purchase it two years earlier but Kodak wasn't interested. By the time Kodak was ready, HP had exited the disk drive market and the stocks of most disk drive companies had crashed. No buyer was found. I couldn't even get a job interview in San Diego, but I received the red carpet treatment at StorageTek in Louisville, Colorado, just outside of Boulder. I moved to Boulder in April 1998, and Louise followed in July. We love it here, but making friends has been a slow process. It will take a while. We don't miss California much, except for my son Henry and Trader Joe's. I much perfer the mountains to the ocean.

The mystery of threes and twelves

Most of my major life transitions have taken place when my age was approimately a multiple of three. Really major transitions happen at twelve year intervals. This has continued since I left college (my college years were divided into 4 and 2). Perhaps some day a wise astrologer will explain it to me. I've heard of three and twelve year cycles, but I don't know why I am so strongly affected by them. Here is the list starting in 1967, the year I left Detroit for Boston. The major transitions are in boldface.
Month, Year Age Event
September 1961 almost 18 Left for college
October 1967 24 Moved to Boston and started working for Honeywell.
December 1970 27 Moved to Philadelphia area and started working for Univac.
October 1973 30 Transferred to California.
June 1976 almost 33 Birth of my first son, Nathan.
June 1979 almost 36 Birth of my second son, Henry.
Summer 1982 almost 39 Left Sperry Univac and went to work for startup, AIM.
Summer 1985 almost 42 Moved to San Diego area and started working for Kodak.
1988-89 45 Bought house on Park Dale Lane, Encinitas.
Early 1992 48 Met Louise (my wife).
December 30, 1994 51 Closed escrow with Louise on on Woodwind Drive house, Encinitas. Ten years to the day after I moved out from Nancy.
November 1997-
April 1998
54 Kodak closed its San Diego Labs. We moved to Boulder, Colorado and I started working for StorageTek.
57, 58
Married Louise (June). Job at StorageTek ended (November).
September 4, 2004
Launched Imatest, my program for measuring lens, camera, and printer quality.

Early years

I was born October 3, 1943 in Rochester, NY. I cost $145; I recently found the bill. That was a lot of money back then: my birth was caesarian section. They had to drag me out. I'm afraid I didn't save the bills for my children's births. Sorry kids, you'll never know what you're really worth. My parents were nearly forty when I was born. That was unusual in the 1940's and lead to some serious "generation gap" misunderstandings years later. I spent my entire childhood living at 28 Darwin Street, in what is now Rochester's "historic Park-East district." Since it wasn't yet historic when I was a child, that must make me historic. (a fossil maybe?)

My home was less than a mile from the George Eastman House, now the International Museum of Photography and Film. I visited frequently, and these visits left me with an abiding love of cameras and fine photographic images. It was there that I first saw Ansel Adams' great images of the American West, images that stayed with me and influenced my decision to move to California in 1973. Childhood impressions exert a powerful psychic pull. They certainly influenced my recent (1998) decision to leave California for Colorado, where the trees and seasons remind me of Rochester, but the mountains are magnificent and the sun shines as much as in California. Such a deal!

I attended Number One Elementary School and Monroe High School, graduating in 1961. My principal hobbies were birdwatching (ages 9 and 10), ham radio (ages 13 through 18), and taking apart old radios, modifying them to try to make them "high fidelity" (ages 14 on with relapses in later years). I was a relatively introspective and intellectual child, regarded by my peers ad "nerdy" (though the word wasn't yet in widespread use).

Some fellow radio hams convinced me that the secrets of the universe would be unraveled by physics, so I applied to be a physics major at the University of Chicago, MIT, and Brown. I was accepted by all three. (My ego, that devil, made me write this.) MIT was my first choice, but I was already developing doubts about physics, so at the last minute I switched to Brown, which offered excellent programs in the liberal arts as well as the sciences-- so I would have more options should I ever decide to switch. Of course when I decided to switch out of physics-- to architecture-- I learned that MIT had a program and Brown didn't. So I toughed it out in physics. I didn't have the passion to become an architect. I'm delighted that my son Nathan has it.
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