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A Techfocus Tribute

From our JOURNAL Family's Journal

“FPGA’s at this price point offer an unprecedented value, and are an excellent strategy to future-proof your design with.”

Shirley stares at the sentence glowing from her Dell monitor for a minute and sighs, then she stretches as she looks out her office window at the distant San Antonio skyline.  The publication deadline is rapidly approaching and the article needs serious work.  There is too much wrong with this one sentence to even mention – dangling preposition, comma separating dependent clauses in a compound predicate, possessive form of “FPGA” instead of the plural…

Plus, she thinks, the whole thing doesn’t even make sense.  Low-cost FPGAs are no longer a new idea.  If FPGA Journal’s copy editor knows that, someone writing a feature article certainly should have a clue by now as well.  Have they been living in a technology-proof cave for the past five years?

Shirley Rice, copy editor for FPGA Journal and Embedded Technology Journal celebrates her 70th birthday today.  She doesn’t have an EE degree.  In fact, she doesn’t have any formal electronics training at all.  However, she has read each and every FPGA Journal article ever published – most of them several times.  If you combine that learning with a Master’s degree in mathematics and some amazing analytical skills, you can see that she’d be a formidable foe in any debate with a roomful of practicing engineers.

As a child, Shirley was about as close as you’ll find to a real-world Steinbeck character.  She was born in dust-bowl Oklahoma and when she was little more than a toddler, her family fled to the Texas panhandle in search of work after losing the family farm.  For awhile, they even squatted in an abandoned gas station while looking for more permanent housing.

Raised mostly by her grandmother in a tiny Texas oil camp town, Shirley excelled in school.  Her mother took on people’s laundry and did extra work in order to scrape together enough to buy Shirley a piano – one of the most cherished gifts of her life.  Shirley devoured the piano (OK, not literally, the strings would get stuck in her teeth) and by the time she started college she was even considering a career as a concert pianist.  She got her first college degree in English, however, from Texas Tech University and pursued her passion to become a teacher.  She was the first person in her family history to earn a University degree.

Later, when Sputnik and the cold war launched the US into a government-funded higher education glut, Shirley took advantage of the opportunity and completed a Master’s degree in mathematics at Louisiana State University.  For the next 30-odd years, she taught math and computer science at the high-school level, inspiring and assisting an almost incalculable number of aspiring engineers (and other people too, of course) to develop the early skills and passion that would lead them on to their way to higher education and to their eventual careers.

Shirley’s teaching career was by no means her only passion.  She is a Renaissance woman of epic proportions.  Married to a music teacher, she kept up her piano skills and accompanied hundreds of young soloists as they shivered and shook their way through high-school performance competitions.  Shirley also loved singing, performing and competing with a number of vocal ensembles.  When the left side of her brain needed more exercise, she got her pilot’s license – nailing perfect scores on her private, commercial, and instrument written exams.  The combination of these skills sometimes garnered interesting looks when she parked her high-performance Mooney airplane on the airport ramp and emerge with the other three members of her women’s barbershop quartet, then gave the line boy fueling instructions as they jumped into a car on the way to a singing competition.

In the time between all those activities, Shirley also raised a family.  Her two sons followed in the footsteps of both their parents, pursuing a broad range of interests ranging from the arts to sports to high-technology.   Her youngest son became a celebrated musician, performing trumpet solos around the world, earning the principal trumpet chair in the prestigious Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and eventually becoming a teacher himself – heading the trumpet program at University of Miami.  Her oldest son – well, we’ll get to him in a minute.

After mourning the death of her first husband, remarrying, and retiring from teaching, Shirley joined Techfocus Media in 2003 as our first copy editor.  Shirley is the quiet contributor to your JOURNAL reading experience.  She is the last line of defense of the English language against the onslaught of industry jargon, invented words, misplaced commas, usage errors, and awkward grammar constructs.  She is the bridge between the technical vernacular of the over-involved engineer and the common communication norms of the interested masses.  If you read our JOURNAL articles, and they make sense somehow – you owe Shirley a “thanks”.  (Ok, she’s not helping with this one, and I’m not sure if that period should have been inside or outside the quotes.)

Shirley’s not just good at copy editing – she’s superb.  Her body of work is permanently on display in our archives.  I consider myself a good writer.  I practice regularly, cranking out an average of over 2,000 finalized, copy-edited, published words per week over the past several years.  I pride myself in being accurate and in having a good command of language and grammar.  However, in all of the hundreds of articles and hundreds of thousands of words that I’ve written that time, never once has an article come back from Shirley’s editing pass with no changes.  For me, it feels like writing thousands of lines of code, and trying to get them to compile and run cleanly the first time.  No matter how much I check and double-check my work, Shirley will find something I’ve missed.  She’s the LINT of our technical journalism. 

We here at Techfocus Media want to congratulate Shirley on her 70th birthday, and to thank her for her enormous contribution to you – our readers, and to the success of our company.  Her sharp wit, her immense and diverse knowledge base, and her dedication to excellence have had a huge impact on the quality of our publications.  We truly appreciate her.

At least one of us wants to thank her for so very much more than that.  Happy Birthday Mom!  If, by age 70, I have managed to contribute even a small fraction of what you’ve given to the world, I will be a success indeed.

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