Back in 1994 I was avoiding a bad situation at home and was staying up late at the office playing chess online at 1 or 2 in the morning. A guy named “Seggev” from Israel and I would play one minute chess all night long back when one minute really meant about 90 seconds because of lag on the Internet. I was so tired sometimes I couldn’t tell if I was being checkmated or if I was just having a bad dream after a heartbreaking argument. Every two hours or so we would reluctantly agree to take bathroom breaks, 9000 miles apart. Whatever it was I was running from, he seemed to be running away from it as well.
On one of my bathroom breaks I ran into the guy from the office next to mine. It was two in the morning. “Why are you here?” This guy had a new baby at home so it was meant as a rhetorical question. “I’m writing some software to catalog pages on the world wide web”, he said. This new thing. “I figure maybe I can get some government funding.”
Good luck with that. I went back to my office. Seggev was already back and challenging me to another game. When I finally went home at about 6:30 in the morning my girlfriend at the time threw her backpack at me. It was filled with books. The computer in the office next to mine was “lycos.cs.cmu.edu”. My friend’s company, Lycos, became the first major search engine. But we weren’t really friends.
Lycos got sold to CMGI, then went public. Then crashed with the market and the advent of Altavista, Yahoo, Google. Bits and pieces got sold to a Korean company. Other pieces sold to a company in Spain. For awhile it was called TerraLycos. First it was in the urinal next to me. Then it was worth a billion dollars. Now its flushed down the toilet somewhere in Europe.
Sixteen years later I’m sitting with one of my daughters. Its dark outside and little hailstones flick at the window. The night’s demons clamoring for our attention. She has insomnia and her mind is racing.
There’s things I want to tell her:
- Fly kites as much as possible. While they are in the air, they keep you on the ground
- Don’t read the newspaper so much. They sometimes breed the worst horror fiction.
- Never do anything you don’t want to do. Even if it seems selfish at first, life is too short.
- Diversify everything in your life, including the people you listen to for advice.
- Learn lots of games. They turn you into a killer without you ever having to hurt someone.
- This is a cliché, but never listen to anyone who says “You can’t do that”. Those are usually the people who can’t do it. Not you.
- Even though life is short, there’s also no rush. You have to put on a parachute before you jump out of a plane.
- Preparation is the key to having good luck. And lots of it.
- Every day is an adventure even though you might not realize the specifics of it until years later.
Eventually she fell asleep and I went upstairs. I try to close my eyes but I can’t sleep. The rain stopped and the house is dead silent. There’s going to be a day when she has to do it all on her own, without anyone to sit quietly with her while her mind speeds away.