G. David Thayer: About Me
I was born in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, in 1931. I always felt different from others, but I never quite knew why. Curiosity was the driving force in my life, that and a great deal of independence and confidence in myself. I think the picture on the right, taken when I was about 5 years old, shows these tendencies. I’ve been a thinker ever since I can remember.
My confidence was, however, intellectual. Physically, I was not a great player at anything. I never did find anything that required eye-hand coordination at which I excelled until I learned to drive at the age of 17—back in the days when they still had driver’s education. In fact, I was in the first driver's ed class ever given at Glen Ridge High School, in 1948.
I graduated from Glen Ridge High in 1949. The picture at the left is my yearbook photo. After that I went to Cornell University where I nearly flunked out. Actually, they kicked me out because I would not attend PT classes consistently. Oh, how I hated those required PT courses! I attended a music school called the New York Conservatory of Modern Music, where Billy Bauer taught guitar. When that school closed because of trouble with the VA over records for the GIs who were most of the students, I tried a semester at Ithaca College. But that did not work out, either, so I went home, did some odd jobs, and got drafted into the U.S. Army in July 1952.
The army tested me for intelligence and sent me to radar repair school. I learned a lot there. Then one day I made the huge mistake of backing my car into the commanding general’s staff car at Fort Monmouth. He was mad as hell about it, but when he found out he had to work with my dad on a regular basis (Dad was Chief Engineer for AT&T back then), he knew the jig was up. So he had me shipped out—anywhere. Anywhere in this case turned out to be White Sands Proving Grounds (now WS Missile Range). Thus, this fiasco turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. I was with a bunch of other eggheads. We all had the same kind of MOS (military occupation specialty) and we had figured out the coding on the tests they had given us when we were drafted. They were Stanford-Binet scores, and by averaging the three scores we could figure out our IQs. We were all in the range from 145 to 157 (as I recall). I was in the middle of the range.
I started working night shifts at the Ionosphere Sounding Station because I got to sleep while everyone else was out doing the things the Army likes to make you do. Basic rule: If it moves, salute it; if it doesn’t move, pick it up; if you can’t pick it up, paint it OD (olive drab). And there are three ways of doing anything: the right way, the wrong way, and the Army’s way. If you followed these rules, you couldn’t go wrong—or so the theory went.
One night with nothing better to do, I casually picked up a calculus textbook one of the other guys was working his way through. I recognized it: Middlemiss, a standard calculus textbook in those days. I started going through it and suddenly discovered that the material now made sense to me. I worked through every problem in the book. When I was discharged two months early in June 1954, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to become an engineer or physicist.
So it was that in the fall of 1954 I enrolled at Newark College of Engineering. When I went to the first calculus class (they made me take it because I’d gotten a D at Cornell in the subject), I knew I had it made. The textbook was—you guessed it—Middlemiss. I got an A in that course. I got As in physics and chemistry as well. At the end of the term they posted the student rankings, from the top of the class to the bottom. I started about 1/3 of the way down and looked to the end. I wasn’t there. I went back to the top and was amazed to find I was ranked 5th out of 183 students. In the spring term I dropped back to 8th in the class. At the end of the school year they gave out prizes to the top students in each physics and chemistry section (there were two of each, I believe). I was awarded a copy of The Handbook of Chemistry and Physics for being at the top of my chemistry section. I would have gotten another for being at the top of my physics section, but they had a rule against that sort of thing. I still have my handbook, with my name engraved on the cover.
To my everlasting joy I found that veterans were not required to take PT. Whew!
In the fall of 1955 I moved lock, stock, and barrel to Boulder, Colorado, and began attending the University of Colorado at Boulder with a major in physics and a minor in math. My first physics course was a junior level class called “The Principles of Electricity and Magnetism.” I didn’t know it, but it was a “weeding out” class. I thought I’d never get the stuff. Then we had the first exam. When the results were in, the instructor announced that it was a good thing they were grading us on a curve, because the grades ranged from something like 15 to a high of 53. I was horrified. But I felt much better when I discovered that mine was the 53.
A good friend of mine, a smart fellow named Art Rubenstein, told me about a year later that he had nearly dropped out of school because of me. He said, “Here I was getting 40s and 50s on exams, and you’re pulling in 90s” (this was later, after I’d gotten the hang of things). I was astonished that I had nearly derailed the career of a promising young physicist. It was a moment of humility, I’ll say that. I did get elected to Tau Beta Pi on the strength of that junior year (it’s the engineering equivalent of Phi Beta Kappa), as well as Sigma Tau and a mathematical honorary, which I think was called Sigma Pi Sigma or something similar.
In June 1957 I graduated with a B.S. in Engineering Physics and started working for the National Bureau of Standards in Boulder. My first job was as section computer programmer for the Radio Propagation section, working for Brad Bean who eventually got a PhD. I worked there for 22 years while the group gradually morphed into a part of the NOAA Environmental Research Laboratories. Mostly, I programmed and used computers, but I also did a lot of research and published a number of papers, ESSA and NOAA Monographs, etc.
In 1968 I joined the University of Colorado UFO Project in response to a call for help from Dr. Condon, the director, who thought he had a contract with Stanford for a report on radar visual UFOs, but instead got only a general overview of the subject. I wrote the chapter on radar-visual UFO cases that appears on pages 115-176 of the so-called Condon Report, in addition to some other sections that were not attributed. For more on this, see my article “Inside the Colorado UFO Project.” The picture on the left was taken about 1968.
In 1977 I was forced to retire on disability because of a condition called Reiter’s Syndrome. In the years that followed I did some vertical application computer programming from my home, and in the 1990s became involved in desktop publishing, genealogy, and photographic editing (e.g., Photoshop). Today I am feeling very well and doing a lot of thinking and thought experiments. The results appear on this website. I hope you will enjoy some of them. The picture on the right shows what I look like nowadays. It was taken in Cortez, Florida, in April of 2012. Oh yes, “boffin” is British slang for a scientist, like “egghead.”