On April Fool’s Day, it is traditional to spread false stories that you hope will sound true. Last year, however, I decided to do the opposite – I posted some true stories that, at least for a moment, sounded implausible or false. This year I’m going to try to turn the idea into a kind of blog-tagging meme.*
*A blog-tagging meme is, in essence, an internet chain letter without the noxious elements.
Without further ado, the Rules of the No-Fooling Meme are:
Rule 1: Post on your blog 1 or more surprisingly true things about you,* plus their explanations. I’m starting off with 10, but it’s OK to be a lot less wordy than I’m being. I suggest the following format:
- A noteworthy capsule sentence. (Example: “I was not of mortal woman born.”)
- A perfectly reasonable explanation. (Example: “I was untimely ripped from my mother’s womb. In modern parlance, she had a C-section.”)
*If you want to relax the “about you” part, that’s fine too.
Rule 2: Link back to this post. That explains what you’re doing.
Rule 3: Drop a link to your post into the comment thread. That will let people who check here know that you’ve contributed too.
Rule 4: Ping 1 or more other people encouraging them to join in the meme with posts of their own.
Hopefully, the end result of all this will be that we all know each other just a little bit better! And hopefully we’ll preserve some cool stories as well.
To kick it off, here are my entries. (Please pardon any implied boastfulness; a certain combustibility aside, I’ve lived a pretty fortunate life.)
I was physically evicted by hotel security from a DBMS vendor’s product announcement venue. It was the Plaza Hotel in NYC, at Cullinet’s IDMS/R announcement. Phil Cooper, then Cullinet’s marketing VP, blocked my entrance to the ballroom for the main event, and then called hotel security to have me removed from the premises.
A few years later, the same Phil Cooper stood me up for a breakfast meeting in his own house in Wellesley. When one’s around Phil Cooper, weird things just naturally happen.
I got James Marsters (“Spike” on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) to autograph a shirtless picture of himself. Linda was a very serious Buffy fan, and I was no slouch in that regard myself. So we flew out to Santa Barbara to join some acquaintances from a Buffy-centric mailing list. Except first, we went – along with the hostess for the gathering – to see James perform with his rock band Ghost of the Robot in Santa Monica. She had downloaded a photo she wanted to pass out to the other (mostly female) attendees. But neither she nor Linda wanted to actually ask him to autograph it – too fangirlish or something. So I stepped up and made the request in their place. (Technically, asking James to sign anything other than a Ghost of the Robot CD was against the rules – but he was more than gracious when I said that if he signed for me it would be a great help to my relationship. )
I had (inter)national reputations in four different fields before my 24th birthday – two academic, two non-academic. I got my PhD in game theory, independently proving a theorem that was simultaneously (and a few months earlier) proved by Mertens and Neyman. Naturally, the game theory community was quite aware of my work. Then I did a post-doc in public policy for a couple of years. Some of my work – sort of a public-sector version of real options analysis, although unfortunately I wasn’t familiar with that concept – was widely circulated among the US utility regulation community. Then, at age 21, I went to Wall Street, as a stock analyst covering the software industry for a major firm (PaineWebber). That pretty much assured me of being known in both the investment and software businesses, especially as I soon got pretty high in the third-party stock analyst rankings.
Graduating college at age 16 cost me my NCAA eligibility – and I wound up regretting that aspect. On the whole, I’m hardly an athlete. But I did take a few fencing classes, and enjoyed them. So when my grad school offered an intermediate intramural fencing class, I was psyched. But when I went the first day, they explained that they didn’t have the resources to offer the class. Instead, anybody who wanted to could join and hence work out with the Harvard fencing team, whether or not they were good enough to compete. Only they couldn’t do that for me – because my NCAA eligibility had been shot when I graduated from Ohio State.
I double-dated with Larry Ellison, twice. Part of the explanation is that when I lived in Manhattan, I had almost no friends there, but quite a few in the SF Bay area. (Seriously, which kind of work acquaintances would you expect me to have more in common with – tech entrepreneurs or Wall Street professionals?) So if I wanted to introduce a new girlfriend to my friends, we’d fly out west. And if there’s one company at which I had a lot of friends, it was Oracle, which I’d first visited in 1983, when it was still located at 3000 Sand Hill Road and had fewer than 50 employees. I was very engaged with Oracle professionally through most of the 1990s – but we also got together just for fun.
I was the top-rated chess player my age in the United States. This is when I was 13 years old, in 1973. But I wasn’t nearly as good as that factoid suggests. 1973 may have been the weakest year for 13-year-old US chess players in modern times; I made #1 with only a 1650 rating. (To put that number in context, it indicates that this 2300+ rated 13-year-old could have routinely obliterated players who could, in turn, have routinely obliterated me.) More on the story may be found at this link.
I told people at a conference “I just spent the afternoon with Bill Gates’ girlfriend — and boy is my butt sore!” This was in 1985 or so. I was a stock analyst living in NYC. The annual American Electronics Association investment conference in Monterey was a must-attend event. Flight connections, however, were imperfect. So Ann Winblad had the idea that, during my several-hour layover, she’d pick me up at SFO, and we’d go drive around the mini race track that’s still there off of 101. I got pretty sore bouncing around in the little plastic cars, perhaps because I wasn’t a very experienced driver. Indeed …
… I didn’t own (or lease) a car until I was 36 years old. (To readers from California, this one may sound the oddest of all. ) I left home at age 16 to go to school in Cambridge, MA, where one doesn’t typically have a car. I left there at age 21 to move to Manhattan. Finally, when I was 36, I left Manhattan for Lexington, MA, at which point I of course got wheels. That Toyota served me well for about a decade, but eventually …
… my first car forced a DBMS vendor to evacuate its whole office building. My Toyota Camry had an engine fire in Intersystems’ building on Memorial Drive, and the building has indoor parking. The story is here. Actually, many other companies had to evacuate the same building.
My kitchen caught on fire, just as I was Twittering with LeVar Burton of Star Trek:TNG and Roots fame. That juxtaposition was a total coincidence. LeVar had just tweeted me his vehement agreement to something I said, when Linda appeared at my office door, having noticed the sound of what turned out to be a fire on the stove. This story has been the subject of several other blog posts …
By the way, what I’d said was, after LeVar tweeted his pleasure at for once actually acting again (on stage, no less), that we choose our original professions for a reason – taking them up again, even for a little while, is like going home again. Even today, I rarely feel more right than when I’m doing mathematics.