Friday Jul 20, 2007

5 secrets

It is my turn to get tagged, a fun game of chain linking, where someone tags you and you have to bare yourself by telling 5 things nobody knew. I have been tagged by Peter Reiser, depicted working here in Menlo Park.
So here are 5 things you probably did not know about me:

  1. My mother is Austrian, my father is English, they lived in France and so did I from the age of 6 to 18. Before that I lived a while in Washington DC, where I learned the alphabet watching Sesame Street. I have direct cousins in England, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and South Africa. I am a Freeman of Newcastle which means I can graze a cow on the commons there. That side of the family has led to some prestigious people like Supreme court Justice Joseph Story and less prestigious one such as Sidney Story who legislated the new Orleans Storyville prostitution district into being. So I am half European half American (as I have lived 9 years in the US) though I only have a British passport.
  2. I once lived on the streets of London. At the time I was studying philosophy and was completely peniless. I soon found out that one could live for less than £40 pounds a month if one was part of a housing co-op, and I managed to get into one all the way out in the distant North East, at Totenham Hale. Needless to say I met a lot of very colorful people along the way. Some of the skills I learned then have remained with me.
  3. At some point as I was living day to day studying philosophy, I remembered that I knew how to program. I had learnt on a DEC2020 available at my father's office when I was a kid. I was playing with the rubix cube at the time, and I thought I would be able to just ask the computer how to solve it for me. I think I was imagining a screen with a big voice that was going to tell me the answer. Jay Wortman took care of showing me a terminal and left me to my own devices. Slowly, in between many games of Zork, I learned my way around the machine. I started learning Basic and was proud of my first program that consisted of only goto loops. I noticed that it was very difficult to change that program. Every time I changed a line, I had to change most other goto pointers. That's how the discovery of Pascal turned out to be a revelation. But that revelation lead me to wonder: what else have I missed?
  4. So somehow I discovered the Centre Mondial Informatique in Paris, which was founded by Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber and directed by Nicholas Negroponte (!). The centre mondial made available a bunch of computers for anyone who wanted to play with them. There were VAXes with modern looking vt220ies, amazing Lisp machines that could show rotating three dimensional color shapes on their A4 sized vertical screens, people working on fractals, ... I even think someone told me about a prototype of a web at that point and even about open source software. I had learnt lisp by the time. But computing was not on the school syllabus, so all that work was labelled 'a distraction'. I decided to focus on mathematics and philosophy instead.
  5. I had consciously decided to forget about computing, because I knew that if I ever got close to a computer, I would never be able to stop using them. Time had gone, and I was living poorly on the streets of London, having to make decisions about what was a more worthwhile expense: a bus or a pencil. It occurred to me that asking questions like this was a waste of time. So through a contact at the philosophy department I met some people at the university of westminster's computing department. After offering to help them out in return for being able to access their computers, I got a one weeks job by the transport studies group there, which earnt me £2000 in a little over a week. That was more money than I had ever had in my hand. The decision was easy, though I swore I would find my way back to philosophy somehow. It turns out that those studies were a good investment because "the web is now philosophical engineering".
So it is now my turn to tag a few people. I will tag Anja Jentzsch and Richard Cyganiak who appeared in the picture of my previous popular blog. I can tag Harold Carr with whome I had a great conversation on the Semantic Web at Jazoon, and who build a very interesting lisp interpreter for Java that can use the Jena libraries. Since we met whilst speaking with Dean Allemang I should tag him too. Here is for Paul Sandoz who is working on JSR311, the RESTful java API. Ok here, I'll tag Tim Berners Lee too just for fun :-).

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