Our Town: Tahoe engineer, musician divides time between two worlds
He has the mind of an engineer and the heart and soul of a musician. And he employs both disciplines in his life.
Alan Miller’s official title is senior water resource control engineer, and his working title is chief of the North Basin Regulatory Unit at the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Lahontan Region.
The Lahontan Region covers Eastern California from the Oregon border to portions of the counties of Los Angeles and San Bernardino. His responsibilities are regionwide, but with a greater focus in the northern counties.
Miller is a registered California civil engineer. He supervises a small team of scientists and engineers who oversee requirements of the Water Quality Board. He has been at the board for more than 15 years, where he works with staff to help keep the waters clean by issuing permits, evaluating compliance reports, making inspections and enforcing state water-quality laws.
Miller, who said he is a “boomer” and a child of the 1960s, was born in a small town in Iowa and began playing the guitar at age 12. In 1981, he attended the Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood, where he studied different styles that were geared toward becoming a studio musician.
He played in different bands and recorded demos. To make ends meet, he delivered instruments to concerts halls and recording studios, and in the early 1980s worked as an extra in hundreds of different TV series, movies, music videos and commercials.
But he wasn’t interested in a career in films, and through his learning process became familiar with Richard Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome, which piqued his interest in engineering.
Miller graduated from Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental resources engineering. His first job out of college was at Tahoe, where he has been ever since.
He has been married to Pam Shaw-Miller for 21 years, and they have two cats, Buddy and Lloyd.
Miller hasn’t lost his love for music and still plays with other people. Some of his other hobbies are studying and writing about math and science, reading, hiking or taking walks, and bicycling, which he does year-round. He also likes to play cards, sail on Lake Tahoe, dance and watch a good movie.
Here is how he answered the Tribune’s questions:
“As a person who made the world a better place, who lived life in a way that added a little beauty and novelty to the world. Aside from that, I have made a few modest discoveries in geometry that I hope to publish in time.”
“Lake Tahoe is unique in the world, a truly amazing pure water body. In my personal opinion, I would like to see a greater emphasis on promoting and maintaining what is unique about Tahoe, especially our natural environment. Science can help to model and inform us about what will happen if pollutant levels in the lake are raised or lowered, and there are many different actions that could improve clarity. There is a community discussion occurring on that, but controlling pollutants and runoff is ultimately needed to keep Lake Tahoe clear. Other issues I’m concerned with include the scale of development on the South Shore, because it’s changing the feel and character of our small town, and the threat of fire, which is a concern for all of us living here.”
“Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). I generally find that his and my views are aligned. He’s also expressed repeated interest in the job, even though he’s currently unelectable. I feel Kucinich could work effectively with the Congress and the courts to get us closer to the America I prefer.”
“Live music – mine or others. Live music can be both intellectually and emotionally stimulating, and it’s just plain fun to play, sing or dance along!”
“Continuing a career in music. It is almost an art in itself to pursue art as a living and make it work. I took a different direction into engineering, which I approach as the art of using science to solve technical problems.”
“My wife, Pam. I’ve never known a more thoughtful, intuitive and caring person. She is a talented artist with a flair for architecture and interior design. An articulate and wise adviser, Pam has taught me a lot about myself and about others. She is an admirable friend and devoted partner.”
“Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) was a visionary for a better world who demonstrated that technology can be used to make poverty and war obsolete. He was a brilliant scientist, inventor, philosopher and author. His book ‘Critical Path’ changed my life. Most known as the inventor of the geodesic dome, he also coined the term ‘Spaceship Earth’ by writing the operating manual for it.”
“The Edge, guitar player with the band U2. He has a great style, and we’d know a lot of the same songs to play together.”
“The Pulitzer, because I tend to value excellence in intellectual pursuits over excellence in competitive sports.”
“I think the issue in our nation’s history is being deceived into starting war. We need to learn from our history. The current war and occupation in Iraq began in deception and should not have been authorized or waged. It is embarrassing that the U.S. started the war and continues to occupy Iraq.”
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