Dr. Charles Kapps

My friend Chris reminded me today that I still haven’t done any acting. It’s easy to say, “So what? Most people don’t ever do acting.” And, you’d of course be right. It’s not really about the acting, though, I’d love to be an extra, or have a 1-line role of some sort, someday. It’s more about what the term “acting” reminds me of–a genius of a man, gracious as can be, who inspired me as a software engineer, and tried to teach me many things that only now make sense years later–Rev. Charles Augustus Kapps, Ph.D..

Dr. Kapps once told me that I missed my calling, that I should have pursued acting. He shared with me his shakiness, and fear of disciplinary action by the Dean based on my first ever performance piece.

As a nerd at Temple University, I spent a lot of time in the CIS Computer Labs. At one point, I figured I might as well get paid to be there, and got a job as an assistant sysadmin, re-imaging malware infested computers, doing Linux installs on whatever relics I could find, and providing tech support to the folks in the CIS offices, students, and even professors. Naturally, this lead to closer relationships between me and the rest of the department. One such relationship was with Dr. Kapps, who approached me one August with a rather stange, and silly idea.

During a trip to a discount store, he found, and purchased a few toy cell phones. These weren’t fancy by any means, but happened to look real enough at a glance, back in 2003. His idea was rather simple: I’d show up to his first day of “Introduction to Computer Architecture,” make the phone ring, and he could better demonstrate his point about turning off your phone before class.

So, on the first day of class, I showed up with my real phone already turned off, and about 3 minutes into his discussion of the syllabus, I reached into my pocket and pushed the button to make the phone ring.

Charles perks up. “Is that a cell phone I hear?”

“Yes it is. I’m sorry, I’ll turn it off and put it away.”

“Can I see it? These things are evolving quickly. I’m an engineer, I know exactly how it works. I also know how to turn it off.”

I give him the phone, and he looks it over. He then proceeds to bend down to place it on the floor. The look on students faces was priceless as they anticipated the next move of this rather large man they’ve known for quite literally, a hot minute.

And with one large stomp of his size 14 boot, he destroyed the toy, shattering it into thousands of pieces, and bent in half the 2 double A batteries that powered it.

My reaction wasn’t so calm. No, I played it up in a way that’d make any acting coach proud. I snapped. I gave the performance of my life.

“What the hell did you do to my brand new phone? IT HAS ALL MY NUMBERS IN IT!”

I don’t know if there was laughter at my predicament, but I heard gasps. I saw fear. I saw everyone take out their phones and immediately turn them off.

And, then I did what anyone would do who wasn’t actually enrolled in the class would do. I got up, grabbed my books and headed for the door as angered as possible shouting, “I DON’T EVEN NEED THIS F$*@ING CLASS! EXPECT TO HEAR FROM THE DEAN!” and went to my real class.

After lunch I went to work, and my boss asked: “What happened in Dr. Kapps' class? I heard he smashed your phone!?” She was confused. That wasn’t the gentle man she knew. “Some students said they went to the Dean after class to support you!”

Years later, I’d still occassionally hear whispers in the lab, and even get the question: “Was that phone actually real?”

When Chris mentioned me, I got curious. I wondered what Dr. Kapps was doing now, thinking that for sure he’d have retired and be taking photos on some gorgeous Mediterranean island.

Instead, I found his obituary. Over 4 years too late to reach out and say hello again.

While in graduate school, Charles accepted an intern position for Raytheon. He would later come to realize he was calculating re-entry trajectories for the Apollo project. [...] He will be remembered for his unique sense of humor, his unmatched intellect, and his deep wisdom.

Rest in peace, friend. May your brain “page-fault” no longer.

— 2017-10-24