The problem with starting at the beginning is that most things don't have a
beginning, middle and end. You can start at the end, or in the middle, but
that suffers that same problem.
Once upon a time, shortly after the collapse of the Internet industry, there
were two people who didn't know each other and didn't know that they didn't
know each other. His world was the one that had collapsed. Hers had a fresh
hole in the middle of it. Both were seeking to assuage some temporary pain,
and instead they found each other.
Once upon another time, when Reagan was president, there were two people who
could have known each other, but didn't. They were attending the same
college, part of the same social circle, and saw each other around campus
without ever quite connecting.
There is a universe in which he never met her. There is another universe in
which these two people met in the 1980s. In the universe of this story, he
and she "only" lost out on twenty years together. This is the story of those
twenty years, and of the first years in which their world lines reconverge.
Someday, there will be another story, of another twenty years, and who knows
what will be written then.
In 1984, on a small college campus in Turlock, California, a young man arrives
to pick up the pieces of his life. He had foundered on the rock of college,
as all too many young people do, and through a circuitous route had come back
to university to finish his degree in advanced geekery.
We'll call him Scott, as that was his name. Scott had graduated near the top
of his high school class and had fled from New Jersey to California to attend
a top engineering school, Harvey Mudd College of Claremont. His parents,
well-meaning but not themselves college-educated, were more ready for him to
be cut loose than he was - 18 and middle-class, he was not prepared to face
the world. The truth of his situation is that keeping the brain supple for
an extended education involves prolonging childhood and adolescence, and Scott
was as wilful as any child. Thrown on his own resources in a very real way,
Scott had failed to cope with the demands of a high-caliber school, and after
three semesters had flunked out of Mudd.
After two semesters of junior college and a very short period of service in
the US Air Force (courtesy of those self-same parents), during which the US
invaded Grenada, Scott had determined a new life path for himself. He would
attend the nearby California State University campus (his parents having
relocated from New Jersey to Modesto, California in the interim) as a commuter
student, get a degree in the relatively new field of Computer Science and once
in the world of work, find a comfortable niche and establish a solid
This was a quite solid and respectable life plan for a 21-year-old to come up
with. The first step was to get admitted to CSU, Stanislaus - not too hard
given two semesters of junior college at a near-4.0 average to counter the
0.67 of his last semester at Mudd. The plan from there was to aggressively
attack the remaining curriculum requirements, challenging what could be
challenged, taking what had to be taken, and determinedly attending every
class and doing every single exercise in order to maintain focus and
So, in 1984, in blue jeans, pocket-T shirt and combat boots, Scott started his
first year of college in Turlock. He was tall, slim, and handsome with more
than just the good looks of youth, with dark, wavy hair and deep dark eyes.
Marty sometimes fought her destiny, but more often she pursued it with vigor.
By 1984, she had reached a critical juncture. Her husband of the last 10
years, a man who had said to her face that his ideal woman was Terri Garr (as
unlike her petite, small-busted, brown-haired self as could be), had made it
clear that he would not support her goal to attain a college education. A
real degree - as opposed to the AA she already held - was and had been her
life goal for the last ten years.
The generation that came of age in the 1960s and 1970s is very well-known and
thoroughly documented. There is scarcely a soul alive who hasn't heard of the
Baby Boom and seen or read stories on that generation's impact on society.
According to the demographers, the next generation is that known simply as
'X', or generation X if you're being fancy. Generation X is almost as well-
known and well-documented as the baby boom generation.
What is less known and sometimes simply not believed is that, tucked in
between the boomers and the Xers is another Lost Generation, or maybe half a
generation. Generations are such funny things, anyway. Some people call this
rump generation "Tweeners" and others call it "Generation Jones." Opinions
likewise vary on what timeframe best represents the so-called jonesers, but if
you take that part of the official baby boom generation that wasn't at least
13 by the time of Woodstock and add the bit of generation X at the isn't quite
X, you'd come pretty close to representing the jonesers. Another way of
looking at it is by when the generation's parents were born, and it's fair to
say that generation jones is the offspring of the Depression babies, those
born between 1929 and 1941.
By the standards of the conventional generational calendar, Marty was a baby
boomer. However, for years before and for years after, Marty would find
herself in conflict with the standards and beliefs of the baby boomers who
were her natural associates. By the 1980s, her tastes and opinions had come
to settle into the camp that in later years she would learn to identify as
Generation jones is the first post-feminist generation. The feminists of the
1950s and 1960s had fought for rights, to have an education and to have a
career, that generation jones came of age expecting to have and to enjoy. The
male jonesers, many of them, expected that the women they went to school with
would come to college with them and that they would have careers together
afterward. Boomer women may have earned the right to go to college, but they
were expected to get an Mrs. degree, stay at home and raise babies, and then
be able to support themselves and their children when their husbands dumped
As a child, Marty had planned to grow up and be a pilot, or perhaps a fireman.
She had expected that around adolescence she would be able to pick the gender
that went with the career of her choice. It took much convincing for the
adults around her to get her to believe that she was wrong - after all, she
had been right when she believed that the continents moved around and the
adults told her that she was wrong about that.
Despite later protestations, it is clear that the path Marty had herself on,
from her childhood onward, was to enter the workforce as an educated person
and become successful at something requiring high skill and bravery. In 1984,
she divorced her husband and took her pre-teen daughter Kendra to the Central
Valley, where much of her extended family lived and where rents were low, and
enrolled at CSU, Stanislaus.
This was a bigger move for Marty than it may seem on the surface. She had a
comfortable, if not always pleasant, middle-class existence as a housewife.
The family income was adequate, she and her husband had owned a house
together, her daughter was well-fed and well cared for. Still, something that
we'll call destiny was tugging at her, and she walked away from that
relatively easy situation in search of something more. The sacrifices were
significant - she would not recover the lifestyle for a decade, and during her
college years she would eke out a living composed of alimony, financial aid
and the income from working at the University as an art model. Furthermore,
the risk was significant as well - one reason that her ex-husband had stood in
her way is that he believed that as a dyslexic, she would never be able to
earn a bachelor's degree. Part of the drive she felt was simply the natural
human desire to prove him, and all of the other skeptics, wrong.
The early 1980s were a peculiar time to come of age. Pretty Nena sang to us,
in German and English, of Spock and Kirk, of lost love and of accidental
nuclear holocaust. The Berlin wall hadn't come down yet and the Soviet Union
was still intact. The end of the world seemed to be perpetually just around
the corner, although no longer with the immediacy of the US-Soviet face-offs
of the 1960s, and life went on.
Socially, the jonesers were growing up in the shadow of the baby boom, and the
media were still the mass media, so the marketers and the demographers
targeted the big group and the beginning of the demographic bulge and ignored
the tail end. Later on, when the media and the markets fragmented, each sub-
generation would be identified and targetted individually, but the jonesers
slipped through the cracks between the end of mass-marketing and the beginning
of targetting. Likewise, at the end of the century, when the X and Y
generations were adopting new technologies because they were young and the
technologies were cool, and the boomers were taking them up because doing what
everything else does is the thing to do when you're a boomer, the jonesers
were in their mid-30s and were too busy building lives and careers to jump
onto this Internet thing in the sorts of numbers that those older and younger
Speaking of the Internet, in the 1980s the Internet was still a very closed
network. It was just making the transition from military to scientific, and
more and more research and education users were getting aboard. There were no
commercial backbones in that era, and the backbone links of the scientific
Internet was jumping up from what would later be known as modem speeds of 56
Kbits to a relatively capacious 1500 Kbits. However, the true dawn of the
Internet as we know it in the early 21st century was still a decade in the
On January 25th, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger blew up on its way to
orbit. In many ways, this marked the close of the American Space Age. Up to
Challenger, there was still some hope that NASA would blaze the trail to a
full civilian involvement in space activity and exploration. Afterward, the
space program seemed to hunker down, and it became evident that the shuttles
were a closed system, operated solely for NASA use, and that they would never
become the core of a greater program. Nevertheless, on January 26th, 1986,
Scott collected signatures on a petition to his Congressman requesting that
space activities be resumed sooner rather than later.
The political event of the age was the collapse of the Soviet Union. The fall
of the Berlin Wall, the rapid formation and breakup of the Commonwealth of
Independent States, and, for a brief while, the marches in Tiananmen Square,
seemed to foreshadow the total collapse of international communism and the
victory of American democracy.
There were other political events, of course. Few jonesers were politically
aware enough to feel more than a vague outrage over Watergate, and Vietnam was
never an issue for that generation. By the time of other scandals such as
Iran-Contra, jonesers were of age, but it was hard to get worked up over the
corruption of the Reagan administration when Ronald Reagan himself was so
Toward the end of the decade, a few small pockets of jonesers began to realize
that they were different from the boomers before them, but it wasn't until
later, when generation X was identified, that jonesers were able to fully
understand their status as a separate group. Still, perhaps the best example
of the alienation between boomers and jonesers was illustrated by their
differing reaction to the television show "30something." The boomers, who
were themselves that age, loved it. Jonesers, however, saw a bunch of whiny,
complaining, annoying old people and could not stand the entire pack of them.
In part, this alienation between boomers and jonesers was fostered by what the
jonesers saw as the betrayal of the ideals of the baby boom. These days, many
people have probably forgotten that the baby boom generation acquired for
itself the name "The Me Generation" in the 1970s. The youthful idealists got
a little older and a lot more selfish and self-centered. Prior to that, the
jonesers looked up to their olders brothers and sisters and cousins. After
that, it got harder, and by the time of "greed is good" in the mid-1980s, the
schism was complete. The jonesers, still idealistic themselves, saw the move
to materials on the part of the boomers as the final betrayal, and they never
forgave the boomers for that.
Tech workers left out of economic recovery Rachel Konrad, CNet News.com CNet March 21, 2002, 17:25 GMT Many tech workers are feeling left out of the nascent economic recovery, but historically the job market lags behind other indicators as the nation pulls out of a recession [...] VC bleakness is bad news for Scott Hazen Mueller, an Internet operations manager who was laid off from a Sunnyvale, California-based Internet service provider in July 2001. Three months after that layoff he accepted a job as a project consultant, but that dried up after five months. He's been unemployed ever since, watching his savings dwindle and going into debt. "It's been pretty ugly, especially the Web job boards," said Mueller, 38, who lives near Modesto, California, and originally began looking for jobs in the Silicon Valley. "I've sent out something like 500 resumes, and in the last seven months I've had one interview...I'm willing to go wherever it takes. I'm talking to one recruiter for a job in Columbus, Ohio, and another in the Los Angeles area." Mueller's spirits have lifted in the past few weeks because his phone has started ringing with calls from recruiters. Although none have resulted in interviews or offers, he's happy they're at least returning his calls. "I've seen the most activity in the past week as I've seen in the past seven months," said Mueller, who boosted his salary by switching jobs three times in the past five years. "Maybe things are rebounding. At this point, I only want to go to work for a solvent company where I can stay there for a good, solid five years. I'm ready to settle down."2002 was not a good year to be an expert in the arcana of the Internet. Even though the peak had been two years before and the bust officially had been in 2000, in 2002 things were still going downhill in the industry. Jobs were few and far between and competition was fierce. Even though Scott had amassed a very impressive resume and was well-known and respected in his field, there were just so many applicants for every opening that he seldom made it to an initial phone screening, let alone to an interview.
However, the real clincher was not his salary requirement (negotiable), his job duties (flexible) or his location (relocatable) - it was his physicality. Scott had paid for his career with his health, and by 2002 he had balooned to a morbidly obese 315 pounds on his 6'2" frame. On learning that he had only hit the 98th percentile of weight, he was heard to complain that he was upset, that as an over-achiever he was accustomed to be a 99 percenter.
Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, that first impression is absolutely critical, and the first impression someone would get of Scott in 2002 was that here was a heart attack, waiting to happen. It is not unusual for a man to die when his industry goes tits-up; it happened when the US steel industry collapsed, and it happened quite a lot in 1929, when the stock market crashed. Scott was in a rapid decline, and by 2002 he had begun to develop stigmata of ill-health on his face that were off-putting to those who met him.
Furthermore, like many men who lose their careers in mid-life, his first marriage, to a dedicated parasite and shaky to begin with, had absolutely collapsed when his first wife assaulted him in their home during an argument. Given his shaky financial position as an unemployed person and his desire to attempt to salvage his home from the wreckage of his life, he toughed it out in the same house with his ex-wife for four months after filing for divorce. Finally he threw his hands up at her obstinance - she got a job after he filed but refused to help make the house payment, for example - and he just walked out on the house, the mortgage and her.
With no job, no assets, no savings and no prospects, he did what many adults do when all else has failed - he moved onto his mother's couch. He took with him an eight-year-old blue Ford Ranger pickup truck, a moderately obsolete PC and laptop from his salad days, a wardrobe that didn't really fit properly anymore and a rickety aluminum table to set the computer on. The only personal item that showed any class whatsoever was the office chair that he had bought a few months before. It was the replacement for the one that had broken when his ex-wife attacked him.
Every other week, he went downtown to cash his unemployment check. Each weekend, he'd shop for groceries and go to the library. He read pretty much everything Orson Scott Card had written to date - it was a very powerful way to ensure that his own situational depression became even worse. At around 2:15, he'd start watching that day's episode of Babylon 5, captured on the recorder in the satellite box, and timed so that he could skip through all of the commercials. At 3PM each weekday, he'd make the rounds of the major job boards - monster, hotjobs, careerbuilder and flipdog were his usual sites.
The big excitement of this part of Scott's life was when he got back in touch with an old friend from the 1980s. His friend Paul turned out to live several hours away, in the small town of Susanville, so Scott got in his little blue truck and took off for a few days out of town. Shortly thereafter, Paul and his wife Vicki decided to move back to Modesto, so Scott again took off for Susanville, this time to help them load up and move.
In part out of sheer boredom and in part because he liked browsing the pictures, Scott signed up on a few Internet dating sites. In the past, working as an executive, he had discovered that he just liked meeting up with people and socializing even if he barely knew them, as long as it wasn't in a semi-anonymous setting like a bar or a party. So, he figured that as long as we was bored and lonely, he might as well try making a few friends.
About Her Astrological Sign: Sagittarius Location: Atwater, California, United-States Hair: Auburn / Red Eyes: Blue Height: 5 feet 2 inches / 157.4 cm Body Type: Average Ethnicity: White / Caucasian, Hispanic / Latino, Native American Religion: Spiritual, but not religious Education: Graduate degree Occupation: Teacher / Professor How she describes herself: Well, I consider myself a cognitive behaviorist. I apply what I know to my clients, emotionally disturbed children ages 8-12. I am also an artist. My work is of course postmodern. It has been said to have the texture and feel of German Expressionism. My look is considered exotic or unique. I have rated a 9, with 10 being the highest, in my type and age group consistently. I guess that means I would be a 7 if I were 20. I like to do artsy thigs for fun; some examples: hike to some remote place and draw, go to a coffee shop and talk about movies (I like action films, sci-fi and campy stuff) and books (I like Steven Pinker). I love to dance, go on pic-nics, take road trips, be physically active. Benefits and concerts are great. And well, yes, I enjoy the Musem of Modern Art and gallery shopping. Well, tahtah for now. How she describes her match: Gosh, I guess I am sort of smart and sort of creative. So I would really like someone who likes people who are...well, smart and creative. Also, someone who is already launched; in other words, they have both time and money to play.
From: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Match.com - You've Got Mail: Hm... Well, I was going to try to say something smart and creative, but, well, I'm tired and the creative juices just aren't flowing... I don't know if you'd be interested in spending time with someone who is more of a re-launch than a launch, but if so, write. \scott The following is my profile text: I'm recently divorced, looking to have a social life but not yet ready for a big committment. I'm reasonably smart, fairly funny, and I've accomplished a surprising number of my life goals, so I'm definitely ready to relax a little and enjoy the good things in life. I'm patient, loyal, quiet, more fond of a small group of close friends than I am of crowds and noise. I like going to the movies, dining out, driving through the countryside, picnics, listening to music, reading and I'm inordinately fond of snuggling and smooching. My philosophy of dating is that I'd much rather go out with someone nice but not "perfect" than sit home alone. I really enjoy meeting and getting to know new people, especially one on one.
From: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Match.com - You've Got Mail: Phoenix-Smith Hello, You made me laugh, thanks...I like that you did not put that you hate brainiacs. Have you ever been to 1505 on a Tuesday? Well what I am might be considered a kinda mix...cause I like 80's retro, goth and techno. Did you see my photo, is it up? Phoenix-Smith, Please visit my website. Go to: http://www.phoenix-smith.comAs a tenured schoolteacher, Marty was well-insulated from the vicissitudes of the technology job market. She knew that something called the Internet had come on the scene, and she had joined the world of e-mail. However, she felt that she was technologically inept, so she used WebTV, the simplest and most goof-proof system there was, supported by one of the biggest corporations around. She was vaguely aware that there had been a big Internet craze and that it had ended quite dramatically, but it wasn't personal for her. None of the one million people highly-skilled and highly-paid information technology people who lost their jobs in the bust were friends of hers. None of her students had parents in the industry, and while a couple of distant cousins had lost jobs, she was estranged from her family at the time, so there was no relevance to her in their stories.
Her take on the world, then, was quite naturally about things that were in the immediate present or recent past of her own life. And for Marty, the most important things in her life were art, psychology and her empty nest. Work was her way to support her daughter through college and to feed her art habit.
However, in the 1990s and early 2000s life just hadn't gone according to plan. Over and over again, she had gotten things lined up just right, and over and over again life had reared up and given her a big old whack on the nose.
The decade hadn't seemed to be getting off to an inauspicious start. She had her long-coveted BA degree and a teaching credential and had started in a posting as a teacher of a special day class for emotionally disturbed students. She had a special interest in that student population, as she had herself been seriously abused and neglected by her parents. She had studied cognitive behavioralism at university and she had some ideas as to how the theories could be applied in a classroom setting.
Even, there, though, teaching hadn't been in her original plan. She had wanted to follow a career in art or in psychology, but realized that she needed to be self-supporting, and teaching provided a clear path. She put the other plans aside and went with plan B, teaching special needs children.
The next detour came when Mr. Wrong slammed into her life. He took one look at her, invented a whole new personality for her, fell in love with his invention, and then attacked her when she dared to be different from his fantasy. The protections available to a young single woman in Atwater ranged from minimal to nonexistent, so she took the only course available to her - she married him, and then worked the system until he begged to be free of her.
While she was ultimately successful, it took time and money. By the time the therapist and the lawyers were done, she owned a house that wasn't worth the mortgage on it and a car in a similar state. Choosing an entertainment for the weekend meant deciding whether to save this week's 50-cent allowance for a 99-cent movie next weekend or to have a soda now.
Her primary relationship for the next few years was with her art. When faced with a choice between fixing her furnace and heating her house or buying paint and canvas, she bought gloves, warm clothes and art supplies and painted. When she introduced herself at showings, she said that she was an artist and celibate, like Morrisey of The Smiths.
Just as avidly as she had worked the legal system, she studied and worked the pay scale at her job. She eventually resolved her financial discomfort with a combination of seniority and a master's degree. On the way to that degree, working full-time with nobody at home to support her, she plumped up quite a bit herself. So, once she had the degree under her belt and a bit more money coming in, she spent some of her new-found time and money working the weight off and giving herself a make-over.
These two unplanned detours cost her half the decade, perhaps a bit more. Just when she was ready to look for something more, perhaps even a bit of romance, real disaster struck: her mammogram came back with a suspicious lump.
The doctors wanted her to do the most minimal thing, with the longest after-care: lumpectomy and chemotherapy. She wanted a mastectomy. Alone, with nobody to really consult, pushed by the doctors to conserve the tissue of her breast, she ultimately consented to a lumpectomy and radiation. What she didn't know, because it is the dirty secret of breast cancer treatment, is that with that combination she laid the seeds of trouble for the future. For then, what she knew is that she was having horrible scars put on a beautiful body, and that she was being made horribly sick by the radiation treatments.
Getting through the treatment and the recovery chewed up the next couple of years. The stress of the situation along with the natural course of life had worn her out, so she decided that before she could try, once more, to get more out of life than just working and being alone, she needed once again to spend some time fixing herself up.
One more time, Marty got herself ready to try to achieve some of her bigger goals, to have some fun and again, to try for some romance. This time, things seemed to start to break her way. A young man, a member of her social circle, made a play for her. They spent time together, they had fun. They cohabited, and things were easy and smooth and without anguish and hullaballoo.
But then, somewhere, somehow, he decided that this wasn't what he wanted. He wanted something else, something Marty couldn't give him. He quit taking his medication, left town and became a party guy, a player. She waited for him as long as he could, but eventually he just went too far away from who he had been, and she gave him up and mourned him. Before he dropped out of her life for good, he gave one last bit of advice: date some 40-year-olds.
She continued to be busy and productive in creating art, but her style of art - strongly influenced by the German Expressionists of the early 20th century - didn't go over well in unsophisticated art market of California's Central Valley. Part of her introduction to the Internet included a tour of art sites, and she tried marketing her art online, but even that effort hadn't gone very far.
2002 didn't get much better as the year ground on. Her daughter gave birth to a son in early August. On the day she was to attend a zeroth birthday for Broedy, Marty attended that morning a funeral for a former student, who had been murdered. Later that same month, she was invited back into her family fold to attend a funeral for an uncle of hers.
One despairing evening in September found her posting a profile to the Internet dating site match.com. Following her former paramour's advice, she didn't cap her acceptable age range at 30.
From scott Sun Sep 29 17:49:38 2002 To: email@example.com Subject: "Joe Random" Hi, sorry to bother you directly, but you're the only person from match.com that I've got a direct e-mail address for. Would you do me a favor and let me know if you saw the below e-mail from me, and if so whether you responded to it or not? I suspect there's a problem with my match.com e-mail, and I'm trying to verify that. Thanks. \scott
From: PhoenixSmith@webtv.net (Phoenix- Smith) Date: Sun, 29 Sep 2002 21:17:00 -0700 (PDT) To: firstname.lastname@example.org (Scott Hazen Mueller) Subject: Re: "Joe Random" I had a bunch of trouble with my Match dot com too. It took many letters and a few phone calls so it should be ok now. I was happy to receive your intelligent and witty reply...and this being my first contact with you through my private address, I will now respond.After graduating from college, the place Scott had worked during college, a department of the City of Turlock, offered him a full-time contracting job. It was an easy choice to take it, since it allowed him to make the transition from student to independent adult relatively easily. He gamely attempted to negotiate the small-city politics, but after around 18 months he felt that things had become untenable and that it was time to head for the big city - Silicon Valley, the Mecca of the high-tech world. Staying in Turlock had been a way of just marking time, and he was of the opinion that the people that he needed to meet and socialize with, especially his hoped-for future mate, would most likely be found in a more cosmopolitan region.
Seen from the end, Scott's high-technology career was a line drive from point zero toward money, power and prestige. He started at the bottom, as a tech support engineer for a computer manufacturer called Pyramid Technology, working in their Remote Technical Operations Center, or RTOC. He spent 18 months honing his technical skills on the hardest problems a thousand customer sites could come up with, and when he determined that his bosses placed less value on his new skills and talents than their competition did, he took his bag of tricks to a minisupercomputer maker named Ardent. Shortly after he arrived at Ardent, they merged with their primary competitor, a firm on the East Coast called Stellar, producing Stardent, coincidentally a brand of toothpaste in the UK.
Around this time, Scott concluded that technical support was burnout city, so he jumped ship again, this time to the computer maker Tandem. At Tandem, he achieved his college goal - he found a comfortable niche in a large company and established a solid reputation as a competent technician in his new slot as a systems administrator. Tandem was good for nearly six years, during which time he advanced from being a lone wolf sysadmin buried in a minor group to being a very senior person on a team of nearly 40 people. In one of those coincidences that fate likes to throw at us to remind us that truth is indeed stranger than fiction, his boss at Tandem was a citizen of Turlock.
When interviewing for jobs around Silicon Valley, Scott was routinely asked where he expected to be in five years. He had always answered, as truthfully as he could, that he visualized achieving a technical peak and then moving into a management role. At Tandem after about 5 years he had reached his technical peak, so he started looking for that management role. At first, his chances seemed good - his group was growing, and new management positions were being created in his area of expertise. His Turlockian boss seemed enthusiastic when Scott inquired about filling one of these slots; then, suddenly, he backpedaled, mumbling something about being afraid of losing Scott if the promotion didn't work out.
Naturally, Scott was miffed. Furthermore, his attitude was, "You're afraid of losing me from promoting me? Fine, instead you can lose me from not promoting me."
While Scott was honing his technical skills at Tandem, making himself an expert in the technology of the Internet, specifically e-mail and related systems, something new was invented in Switzerland. At first, this World Wide Web was crude, but some bright programmers in Illinois created a program named Mosaic, and it became possible to "browse" this Web in a new way. One of the programmers at Tandem started experimenting with this Web thing and Scott got wind of it. It only took a short exposure, and he was hooked. In 1994, he built a web site, called it "www.tandem.com" and took off for six weeks of mandatory sabbatical before he could get in trouble for it. When he came back, he became Tandem's first Webmaster.
So, in 1995, when Marty was working on her master's degree, Scott started looking for his first post-Tandem opportunity. A new company, one named Netscape, advertised that it was hiring for a systems administrator. However, the attitude of the Netscape guy, some fellow named Marc Andreesen, stuck in Scott's craw, so he didn't apply for that job. Instead, he interviewed with an obscure San Francisco company called Worldview Systems. Worldview was teaming up with an arm of American Airlines, Sabre Interactive, to create an Internet travel site that would be named Travelocity.
The dream that his prospective boss sold him on was that Travelocity would be as big as Netscape, and that he would get to be the architect who would figure out what systems, how many and how big, would be needed to run the site. Scott would then manage those systems, and when the time came he would get to hire and manage a team to run the systems. Furthermore, he would get equity in the company and have a real chance at a serious financial reward. This was exactly what he was looking for, so Scott signed on. The Internet boom was starting, and he was there at the ground floor.
He worked his ass off bringing up his part of Travelocity. Worldview was an early customer for Netscape's server software, so he was able to wangle a visit to Netscape's corporate campus. There, he interviewed one of their experienced server engineers, getting an understanding of what it would take to build a site as big as Netscape's. He then returned to San Francisco, and built a nice conservative little site, sized to handle just 1/3rd of the load that Netscape handled on a daily basis, but easily expanded to be just as big as theirs.
Launch day came. The launch was staged on the East Coast, at 8AM in New York City. In order to have him and the other staffers available at 5AM in San Francisco, Worldview put them up in downtown San Francisco the night before. By a few minutes before 5, the entire crew was in place and ready for the big launch. Worldview was hosting the home page, www.travelocity.com, as well as subsidiary pages for information about destinations, chat groups about travel, and travel-related merchants. Sabre was hosting the airline flight information system and the reservations engine. Scott had hired two technicians to help him support the site; one was an old friend from Tandem who had done a stint at Netcom, an early Internet Service Provider.
Launch day went. The systems filled up to 10% of the capacity that Scott and his team had built - a mere 3% of the traffic that Netscape was bringing in. The business people made new deals, the content people added new content, and still the traffic level stayed stubbornly stuck at 300,000 hits per day, nowhere near the 10 million that had so confidently been forecast just a few short months before.
The way of the world in high tech is pretty consistent from company to company. If the company fails to hit sales forecasts, people get the axe. If the failure is consistent, the entire company gets the axe. Already, of the three companies Scott had worked at previously, two were basically gone. He knew that the inevitable outcome for his three-person team would be the loss of at least one headcount. Scott didn't really want to fire either one of his crew, so he did what he could to preserve their jobs - he found a new one for himself, just a year after joining Worldview and less than 8 months after the launch of Travelocity.
His new gig was as the employee of a small consulting firm led by a leading light of the Internet world. This man headed up the development of the software used as the underlying directory of the Internet, a package called BIND. Scott took the job because of his new boss's reputation in the community and despite the initial bad impression formed when his new boss met him in jeans with the crotch ripped out.
From scott Sun Sep 29 22:17:52 2002 To: PhoenixSmith@webtv.net Subject: Re: "Joe Random" >About being shy. People take my shyness as being stuck up. I think that's par for the course, unfortunately. In my case, I also have a small deficiency in central audio processing, meaning that if I'm not paying attention to what someone is saying to me - example, being hailed by a stranger - I may not even realize that they've spoken to me, and by the time I do, they've moved on.
From: PhoenixSmith@webtv.net (Phoenix- Smith) Date: Mon, 30 Sep 2002 07:01:19 -0700 (PDT) To: email@example.com (Scott Hazen Mueller) Subject: Re: "Joe Random" So how else does your auditory processing deficit...or whatever affect you on a day to day ?
From scott Mon Sep 30 13:09:46 2002 To: PhoenixSmith@webtv.net Subject: Re: "Joe Random" Not much under normal circumstances. I have decent acuity, it's just that the discrimination circuit is broken, so I can't pick out one conversation when there is significant background. For example, I gather that in a restaurant (say) with two conversations going on at adjacent tables, a "normal" person can follow their own partner's conversation and most of both of the others. I can only follow the one, and only with care and occasional requests to repeat.
From: PhoenixSmith@webtv.net (Phoenix- Smith) Date: Mon, 30 Sep 2002 19:54:56 -0700 (PDT) To: firstname.lastname@example.org (Scott Hazen Mueller) Subject: Re: "Joe Random" 2nd reply I love to read what you have written. You are engaging and entertaining. I wonder what it would be like to communicate face to face with someone who has the same auditory processing problem...Imagine going to a restaurant and listening to two separate couples' conversations because we can not pay attention to what we are saying to each other.
From scott Mon Sep 30 20:37:10 2002 To: PhoenixSmith@webtv.net Subject: Re: How pleasant to hear from you. Goodness. I think I'd lose all three conversations. It's not usually that bad, unless I'm at a seriously noisy restaurant. I haven't had much trouble with that at home in the US unless at someplace with a bar on Friday or Saturday night. Speaking of communicate face to face, if at some point you'd like to, I'm game. I discovered when working in Asia that despite my shyness I really enjoy meeting new people.
What defines a person? What makes one person distinct from another? In the
20th/21st centuries, in European-derived culture, many men took their
identity, their definition of self, from the work they did. When you are a
man who does this - which Scott did - when you lose your job and your career,
you also lose your identity. If you're an accountant, say, and suddenly
there's nothing to count, what are you?
One way to go is to look at what the other things are that you do. Darn few
people do nothing but work and sleep. Some raise children, others raise
flowers, some just raise heck. Scott wasn't any different. Still, by 2002 he
wasn't short just on his work identity. The identity that he had forged as a
married man, as a homeowner, was also on the dustheap. He had other
touchstone achievements, but many of those were in the past as well - his
stint as a columnist was some five years behind him, as was his last run at
being an entrepreneur.
What Scott had left by 2002 was his involvement in Internet political and
social activism. He was an anti-spammer, and one of the leading lights of the
international anti-spam movement. He had become involved in a bass-ackward
fashion back in the mid 1990s, when he had created an anti-spam mailing group
in order to clean up a group devoted to moderation of Usenet discussion
groups. Spam discussions kept coming up in the moderation group and making
other people unhappy, so to facilitate keeping the moderation group, Scott
stepped up to the plate by creating his anti-spam group.
Over time and through luck as much as anything else, his particular anti-spam
group became the place to be if you were anything other than a garden-variety
anti-spammer. The group was slightly selective, and prospective members
needed to be known by an existing member in order to join - this was started
in order to keep spammers from sneaking in, but eventually evolved to a sort
of minimal quality assurance mechanism. Because the Usenet moderators' group
was something that attracted long-time Internet users, Scott had attracted a
core group of these old-timers to his list, and they helped create a space on
the Internet that retained some of the flavor of the pre-commercial Internet.
Scott also discouraged "flaming", or getting into vicious online arguments
with each other; this helped keep the list mostly civil, even when people who
joined the list worked at companies with poor or marginal reputations.
Shortly after starting this list, Scott read a couple of articles on unrelated
topics - one on boycotts and the other on activist web sites, and he hit on
the idea of creating a website for the purpose of encouraging people to
boycott spammers. This site went through a variety of evolutions over the
intervening years, but by being there early, getting good information out, and
hanging in there for a long time, but 2000 or so Scott's site was consistently
#1 or #2 on Google for the keyword 'spam'. Scott only lost the #1 place to
Hormel, who had some sort of canned meat product called 'SPAM'.
Late in 1996, in December, Edward Cherlin approached Scott with an idea that
he had had - to petition Congress to pass a reasonable law against spam. They
brought in a third associate, Doug Muth, and started laying the groundwork for
this project. This led to the creation of another mailing group (something
Scott was quite good at at this point in time) and a 6-month round of
discussions by a group of about 50 interested parties. By the time these six
months were past, Scott was exceedingly frustrated by the delays caused by
this type of mass-consensus decision making. The petition idea had grown to
become an organization - the Internet's first political activist group, the
Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail, or CAUCE. As soon as CAUCE
officially launched itself, Scott staged a coup d'etat, naming a Provisional
Board consisting of the people who, in his opinion, had distinguished
themselves as being sane and rational. Edward became the first President of
CAUCE; Dr. John Levine, an author and general Internet expert, the first Vice
President. Ray Everett-Church agreed to be the organization's Legislative
Counsel, the person who spoke to Congress on CAUCE's behalf. John Mozena was
the PR Director, and Doug Muth became a director-at-large and Membership
Coordinator. Having appointed the Provisional Board, Scott appointed himself
Chairman of CAUCE.
Marty wasn't any slouch herself in terms of her contribution to society.
Aside from what she was doing for a living, and her art career, she ran
something that was a cross between an art salon and a group home out of her
house. She had a circle of young friends who she mentored and guided, as well
as socializing and going clubbing with. This circle included some of her
large extended family, such as her nephew Jason Foren and cousin Melissa
Forrest, as well as friends such as Dakota Warren and miscellanous associates
of all of them.
While she had some wild times with her young friends and associates, there
were a few very hard and fast rules in Marty's home, number one of which was,
no drugs. She might play and party hard with her crowd, and play games that
were irreverent and occasionally obnoxious, but it was all clean and mostly
Despite playing and clubbing, at core Marty retained a serious relationship
with anyone who needed her in that capacity. The parents of her friends were
willing to let them come and hang out specifically because her place was safe.
Additionally, she took it on herself to try to assist her charges past the
lumps and bumps of growing up. In some cases, there was much more going on
than just the normal angst of adolescence, and Marty worked to assist with
that as well.
One of her messages was constant, with anyone who would listen: get a college
education. She repeated this message not just with her young charges, but
with all of her classroom aides at school, and she was proud of each and every
one who took college courses. She practically burst with pride over each of
her mentees who graduated college, whether young or not so young, such as her
former aide Lynn Smart.
Many of her companions modeled for her to draw and paint during this period
of her and their lives. Marty painted the bulk of her "Watching TV" series
around this time. Each portrait in this series depicted the model as they
watched a favorite movie or television show, and each portrait was executed
from start to finish in about two hours, give or take.
Marty also mentored her friend Dakota Warren, himself an aspiring artist and
craftsman. As a craftsman, Dakota specialized in tilework, and he and Marty
collaborated on several tile murals for her house. He supported himself
through such tilework, but he also competed for and won several public art
commissions. In many ways, Dakota is and was the son Marty never had.
Dakota was the person who introduced Marty to the Internet. He interested her
by showing her how other artists were using the Internet to show their work.
Inspired, she collaborated with her cousin Melissa in creating her own art
site, showing all of her work as well as some of her writing and providing a
resume of her professional life.
Back in the workplace, Marty was taking cognitive behavioral theory and
applying it to the problems of her emotionally distrubed elementary school
students with great effect. This was more than just a job - this was a true
mission, a true calling. The students that wind up in the ED classroom aren't
just unhappy or a little angry. Marty's students were accomplished arsonists,
molestors as well as molested, drug users and sometimes dealers, and other
sorts of criminals. Their destiny was to wind up in prison; then they met up
At core, what Marty did was to identify the weak spot in the traditional cycle
of violence. The cycle propagates itself by inculcating children while they
are helpless and weak. The first lesson that it teaches is that there is no
consequence for bad acts, that in fact there are no bad acts, no right or
The first countervailing lesson a student learned from Marty is that there is
in fact a standard that they must abide by - obeying is right, and accompanied
by a good consequence, and disobeying is wrong, and there is a price. From
there, she could build in each student an inner voice helping discriminate
right from wrong. That each inner voice would sound like her was just a minor
side effect of the process.
Some people believe that in addition to the traditional forward and backward
directions in time that it is possible to go sideways. Forward, of course, is
what we do every day - every second, we travel one second forward in time.
Backward is what we do in memory and in story, but not, so far, in person.
Sideways, sideways, now, is what we do when we imagine a different outcome for
an event or a set of events, all of the universes of what-if? Some scientists
speculate that what-if isn't just a fancy, that each time there is an event
that can branch two or more ways, that two or more universes fork off and the
event comes out each way in each universe.
Science fiction writers like to come up with all kinds of interesting what-ifs
about historical events and then write big elaborate stories about them. What
if the South won the Civil War? What if Hitler won World War II? What if
the Stanley Steamers didn't blow up quite as much and the gasoline engine
never took off? And so on and so on.
What if Scott had met Marty in 1984, or 1985, or even 1986 or 1987?
The first question any writer needs to ask about their what-if is, is it even
plausible? How could the South have won the Civil War? What could Germany
have done differently to win WWII? Sometimes, maybe, the what-if isn't so
plausible, but then everything else about the story has to be ironclad. If
you want to write a story about what if aliens invade Earth in the middle of
World War II, you had darn well better know everything there is to know about
that era, and then some.
Is it plausible for Scott to have met Marty at college? In truth, it's not
only plausible, it was almost impossible for them not to have met. CSU
Stanislaus only had about 5,000 students in the mid-1980s. It wasn't even an
official University in 1984, when they both enrolled - it was CSCS, California
State College, Stanislaus, and it only got upgraded in 1985 or 1986.
Moreover, the biggest impediment to their meeting - Marty's college boyfriend
- socialized with one of Scott's Computer Science professors and the prof's
wife. It turns out they were all Grateful Dead fans and went to concerts
Additionally, Scott and Marty both remember going to the Sacramento Railroad
Museum during college as part of a group. Marty remembers the person Scott
rode with - he was another member of the Grateful Dead fan circle of the time.
It's a virtual certainty that they were on that trip together.
Lastly, both Scott and Marty hung out at Mom's, the on-campus hangout joint,
on Fridays after classes. They probably sat there and looked at each other,
both too shy to break the ice, from the tables of their respective social
groups. They may have stood in the snack line together, bumping up against
each other's spaces and social inhibitions.
The next question, when designing the world of what-if, is what would happen,
and would it make a difference? If the South wins the Civil War, and makes
itself into a separate country, there are various possible consequences, such
as the United States and the Confederate States fighting on different sides in
World War I, that make still other things go differently. If, on the other
hand, what happens is that the South actually conquers the North, takes over
completely, and then the CSA goes on much as the USA would have historically,
there is a lot less story there because the what-if made no difference.
So, what if Scott and Marty had met in college? Would things have gone
differently? The answer is not just yes, it's heck yes. Even if all that
happened is that they dated for a couple of years and then split up, the
period of time in which they would have been involved with each other was the
same period of time in which both of them got into rather stinky
relationships. The barest minimum that would have happened is that they could
have saved each other those horrible painful years.
Much more likely is that they would have stuck together all the way through
Marty's college years. When Scott moved to Silicon Valley in the late 1980s,
he may very well have continued the relationship, albeit at a long distance.
When Marty graduated, she would have been open to moving to Silicon Valley
herself, and so they probably would have wound up there, together, getting
married and buying property together. When the Internet boom came along,
Scott would have been well-positioned to participate, and they probably would
have done very nicely indeed.
At the very far end of the spectrum is the story Scott made up for Marty in a
sentimental moment. In one universe, far away in sideways time, Scott and
Marty got together and became very successful and powerful. In fact, they
became so successful and powerful that they dedicated themselves to traveling
all over the multiverse, and everywhere they went that they found themselves,
they intervened in the flow of events so that their alter-egos of that
particular universe got together. And that's all they do - travel from
universe to universe, planting the seeds of new romances every which way.
Back in our reality, by 1996 Scott had landed at a small consulting shop,
Vixie Enterprises, working for someone who didn't know quite what to do with
his new employee. Vixie sent Scott here and there, including to Phoenix,
Arizona, to meet up with the Chief Technology Officer of an Internet backbone,
a firm called Genuity; the man was called Rodney Joffe.
After a couple of months of bouncing around, Vixie sent Scott to San Francisco
to do some management work for David Holub, President of Whole Earth Networks,
a small regional Internet Service Provider (ISP). David was directly managing
his systems administration team, and wanted someone to take it off his hands
so that he could focus more directly on managing the company. Scott started
out working in San Francisco three days a week. After a couple of months,
Vixie messaged Scott out of the blue that he needed to give notice to Whole
Earth and get himself out to Phoenix again the next week. It seems that he
was moderately displeased that Scott and David had renewed Scott's contracting
agreement without consulting Vixie, and he was showing his ire by being rude
and arbitrary in terminating it.
When Scott went into David's office to give notice, David asked him if he knew
of anyone who was available to take the position over full-time, and named a
salary range that was a notch above Scott's current pay, with the title of
Vice President of Engineering. After not very much consideration, Scott put
in for the position himself and quit Vixie Enterprises. The parting was not
entirely amicable, and Scott had to threaten legal action over some back pay,
making things even less pleasant.
Whole Earth looked like it would be a pleasant gig, and the title, pay and
responsibility represented to Scott exactly where he wanted to be at that
point in his career.
Scott had never really looked into the ownership of Whole Earth Networks. He
learned these things over time: David Holub had started an ISP originally
called "Hooked" (as in "Get Hooked on the Internet"). The firm was under-
capitalized, as most small ISPs are, and he sold control to an associate in
order to get money to expand. At somewhere around the same time, Bruce Katz
(pronounced "Cates"), whose father had started Rockport Shoes, decided that
the Internet would be an interesting place to play. He had sold the shoe
company to Nike and had a considerable amount of money to play with. He
bought a conferencing system, The Well (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link, a
spin-off of Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog), that was one of the oldest
and most prestigious conferencing systems of the pre-Internet era. Bruce then
bought Hooked and reorgnized the two companies into three. The Well was
stripped down to just the conferencing system. Development of The Well's
conferencing software was moved to a new company, Well Engaged. Lastly, the
portion of The Well's operation that provided access to the system was merged
with Hooked and the result was christened Whole Earth Networks (WENet).
About three weeks after Scott started with WENet, Bruce Katz' assistant
Claudia showed up one morning. David Holub was absent and Claudia had a
strange scary-looking fellow in tow. The new man was introduced as Kevin
Randolph, and the executives of Whole Earth were told that he was the new
President and CEO and that he had been hired to sell the company.
The firing of David Holub was immensely unpopular with the long-time staff,
especially with the systems administration group that reported to Scott. Some
of them went so far as to hang banners and pictures from their desks,
protesting the firing and demanding that David be brought back. It looked for
a while like the situation might get ugly, with a mass resignation, but with
time things calmed down and the company kept going under the new CEO.
While each person is different in details, the broad sketches of how people
normally progress from infancy to maturity are fairly clear. The stages are
well-known and well-documented. While each stage is important, some of the
earliest stages are the most critical.
When a child is two years of age, they haven't yet developed the sense of
self, what some writers call the "analog I." In the normal course of
development, the child begins to become aware that the parent is separate from
the child, and over time comes to a full understanding of what it means and
becomes reconciled to separateness. Kindergarten normally starts around the
time that this process reaches the point where the child can tolerate being
away from their parent for half a day.
During the course of this process, there is a point, normally around the age
of three, where the child is in full rebellion against the realization that
the parent is separate from them. This is completely typical and normally it
ends within a year or two.
Psychologists have a lot of names for the situation where this normal
maturational process has become derailed. The names reflect which stage went
awry, or what particular feature of the person, usually an adult by this
point, is dominant. The names are of different personality disorders, such as
Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and
Antisocial Personality Disorder. These names just differentiate among
situations in which the person under discussion has a blurring between self
and non-self and the degree to which the person acts on that blurriness.
Basically, what happens is that the child becomes stuck at this point, and
grows up into an adult whose basic personality is that of a three year old
child. They won't be retarded in the typical sense - they'll have language
and intellect appropriate to their chronological age - but their motivational
and belief system is that of a three-year-old. They will have the verbal
ability and experience of an adult and they will put it into the service of
fulfilling the needs of a child who wishes to be in a state of union with the
parental figure. When they enter into relationships, they aren't looking to
have a mutually supporting and nurturing relationship between two equal
partners who are facing the world together and finding joy in the alignment of
goals, objectives, skills and abilities. These people, these emotionally
stalled adults, are looking to recreate a specific situation in which they are
the child again and the partner is the parent, and the parent is in service to
the needs of the child. Not only is the parent figure in service, but the
partner/parent must not have needs of their own that go against the needs of
the child. If the partner has the nerve to have a need of his or her own, the
broken person flies into a rage, just as the toddler rages when he or she
realizes that the parent is a separate person. Each time the partner diverges
from the image the disordered person has, the disordered person relives the
experience of the three-year-old and behaves just as rationally.
Few normal adults would willingly seek to have a romantic or marital
relationship with a three year old. However, the people who have these sorts
of disorders have become skilled at getting their needs met, and at the age of
three, the moral sense has not developed, so they have no moral inhibition
against doing whatever they deem necessary. This is why what we call
antisocial personality disorder (or sociopathy) is frequently present along
with the other features of this disorder. Like most diagnoses, sociopathy
must rise to a certain level before being considered clinical, but even when
it's not at that level, it is almost always at the sub-clinical level.
When people have a good social support and family structure, the people around
them help them steer clear of individuals with disorders like the above.
There are times, though, where what happens is that the disordered person is
able to co-opt their target's friends or family, or drive away some or all of
the support structure. At other times, their target doesn't have much
structure - they've moved or otherwise pulled themselves out of their
structure, one or more family members die, or other events leave them
vulnerable. When these things happen, the disordered person may be able to
establish themselves in their target's life in such a fashion that, even
though the target may be fairly healthy, they become embedded in a sick
situation and find themselves being supported only in becoming emotionally
It would be interesting, on many levels, to see early 21st century brain
science techniques brought to bear on studying how people respond to art.
There have been some studies done - some people, it has been shown, mirror the
facial expression of the subject when they are looking at portraiture, and it
appears that they actually feel the emotion being depicted. New brain
structures, called mirror neurons, found around the start of the 21st century,
provide a mechanism for understanding how this process works. It is likely
that the mirror neurons are highly involved in responses to art.
One of the other things that we are learning about the brain is that it is
much more plastic, more malleable at a later age, than had previously been
believed. It was shown some years back that brain cells are constantly being
produced in the brains of monkeys. It is likely that this is also true in
humans - there is no reason to suppose that it is not so. It has also been
shown in humans that certain brain regions enlarge under heavy use. London
taxicab drivers have a much larger hippocampus than average adults, and it has
further been shown that the longer someone has been a cab driver, the bigger
their hippocampus is. The hippocampus is the area of the brain that is
involved in navigating, so the correlation is clear - the more exercise the
hippocampus gets, and the longer it goes on, the bigger it gets.
The mirror neurons are brain structures that are involved in understanding
motivation, extrapolating unseen action from seen action, and in identifying
and empathizing with other people. These special neurons actually stimulate
the rest of the brain so that, for example, someone watching a sport will have
their sensory and motor centers switching on and off just as if they were
actually participating. The effect is even stronger if the viewer is someone
who does sometimes participate in that particular sport. So, to go back to
our art example, when the person views the portrait, it is probably not that
they take on the expression and then have the emotion. Instead, what is most
likely going on is that their mirror neurons process the facial expression for
them and then stimulate their brain so that they have the emotion; they then
take on the same expression as the work.
It has long been believed that women and men have differing levels of empathy.
This is something that is also being confirmed by science. Researchers are
also beginning to probe the brains of people with "non-traditional" gender
identities - gays and lesbians to start, and hopefully soon they will also
study bisexuals and transgendered persons. What is likely is that humans fall
across the whole spectrum, but that there are strong correlations - clumping
effects, if you will - between gender identity and brain structure. One of
the areas that will likely be fruitful for research will be in the
relationship between mirror neurons in specific and gender and how this
impacts what we are now coming to understand are gender-correlated behaviors.
Getting back to art again, it is reasonable to suppose that responsiveness to
certain forms of art - art with high emotive content, for example - is going
to be correlated with empathy and emotional communication in general. At
least in someone's initial experience, their response to art is likely to be
dominated by their innate predisposition. Somebody who is highly emotive is
likely to be very responsive to the emotional communication. On the other
side of the coin, someone who falls into what some call the "systematizer"
camp likely lacks the brain structures to appreciate or respond to the emotive
content. Over the long term, though, because the brain continues to grow and
change in response to experiences throughout adulthood, it should be possible
to stimulate and direct growth and learning so that even the systematizer can
understand, enjoy and even feel the emotional content of a work of art.
This is not to say that this process is the least bit simple or easy. It will
take time and a lot of exposure. Still, there is hope. Unless the structures
are someday found by some scientist to just not exist or to be hopelessly
deformed, even the densest systematizer should be able to learn to love art as
much as they love the artist.
Selling a company isn't quite like taking a bag of beans to market. Assuming
that both farmers are honest, one bean is pretty much like another. They'll
taste about the same, and your farts will smell about the same at the other
end of the process.
Companies come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and the one thing they have
in common is that if they're for sale, they are generally dysfunctional. As a
buyer, the trick is to spot what's wrong and determine whether you can live
Actually, the dysfunction tends to extend to all companies, for sale or not.
In a corporate transaction, you have broken Company A buying broken Company B,
and the people involved are all busy scoping out each other's brokenness.
Whole Earth had one primary problem: as companies go, it was poor. It had
revenue of around $5 million per year, which is pretty nice if you're one
person, but pretty iffy for 50. Being poor meant that Whole Earth didn't have
good toys, and it didn't have enough money to give people good pay, so they
were unhappy. Not having good toys meant that it was hard to provide good
service to the customers, so they became unhappy and went away, which meant
that less money would come in.
Now, when you come into a company and you want to make it healthier
financially, you need to look at two things: how much money comes in, and how
much money goes out. A lot of people go for the quick fix - they cut down the
money going out - it's called cutting costs, and it usually involves firing
people. The idea with cutting costs is that there's a lag time between when
you cut the costs and when those cut costs come home to roost. Usually what
happens is that the cost-cutter doesn't just cut out fat - they also cut
muscle, and weaken the company. Anyhow, you try to sell the company during
The other way of fixing the company is harder - you try to boost the money
that is coming in. Usually you need some money in order to make that happen -
it's called investing. You take this money, you fix up some stuff, maybe you
hire some people, and if you've done it right, revenues go up not just enough
to pay the money back, but some beyond that.
Kevin Randolph had an expression about cutting costs: "You can't save your
way to success." The course he took with Whole Earth was the harder and more
ethical one. He got honest money where he could, and he moved Whole Earth
from just treading water to where it could actually begin to have some forward
motion. He took Scott under his wing and mentored him in management, and he
got Scott to implement improved services. In some cases costs actually were
cut, but by and large what happened is that Whole Earth actually got some new
toys and various real problems were fixed.
One of Kevin's other mantras was "Fewer, better people." He and Scott had a
few go-rounds over this particular mantra, but once they got all of that
sorted out, Scott came to understand that instead of having 12 people on his
team, several of whom were distinctly mediocre, he could have 8 people, all of
whom quite good. Furthermore, Scott could pay those 8 good people much better
than 12 people had been paid, and this made both him and his people happy.
One of the surprisingly simply things that Kevin taught Scott was about
providing treats to his people as a way of building the team. It is amazing
what a little food and a few toys will do for morale and group-feeling. Pizza
is the traditional food, of course, though donuts were thrown in occasionally,
given Scott's fondness for the sugary food-like stuff. Scott also went to
Toys-R-Us one day and put about $200 of Nerf guns into his team's hands. This
was especially fun given that Kevin sat in a glass-walled office. It wasn't
unusual to come into Whole Earth and see a salvo of Nerf darts, with their
suction-cup tips, stuck to Kevin's office wall. Kevin's response to this was
distinctly tolerant: "Tell your people to not do that when I have guests."
Part of that was already taken care of. As a San Francisco-area high-tech firm, Whole Earth Networks had offered stock options to its employees. The stock wasn't publically traded, so the options were basically worthless. However, if management wants to incent employees to stay until a sale is complete, it can offer an "accelerator" on options. Normally, stock options vest over 3-5 years, meaning that each month, some more of your stock option becomes available for you to buy. Since stock in a company that isn't traded on a public exchange isn't worth anything, most people don't buy their vested options, though, so even though they could own the stock, they don't.
With an accelerator in place, what happens is that on a sale, your option vests 100% and you can buy it on the spot. Since selling the company usually means selling all of the stock in the company, the buyer agrees that they will buy the employees' stock as well as the owners', so the employees get to "flip" their option immediately - buying it from the old owner and selling it to the new one. The employees then pocket the difference between their option price and the sale price.
This sort of accelerator acts as a strong incentive for employees to stay on until the sale, because if you are not employed as of the official closing date, you don't get to participate. However, this doesn't do anything to get people to stay around after the date of the sale. Even in the best of cases in any sort of buyout, things get shaken up and people become afraid for their jobs, so Kevin offered a second level of incentive to key employees. The key staff of Whole Earth was given an employment contract that said that for six months after a sale, if they were laid off or they had a substantial reduction in their responsibilities (an "effective termination," where they had their job duties taken away but they weren't actually fired), they would get a severance package of six months' pay.
By addressing these various issues, Kevin had taken Whole Earth from, frankly, a pig in a poke, to being a saleable property. It was still substantially a 5 million dollar per year regional ISP, but at least it was healthy instead of sickly, and it had something that looked like a potential future.
These cleanup activities had been taking place in parallel with the search for a buyer. There were any number of inquiries, but the company that finally took the bait was GST Telecom of Vancouver, Washington.
Excerpted from http://www.satanic.org/gst/ Real Press on the GST Buyout of Whole Earth Networks There's been rumours that GST is buying WENET, the Bay Area ISP which is made up of Hooked Inc. and the WELL's Internet branch. Well, they're true. They're gonna fuck over some other poor bastards, just like we were. Read all about it. Eric reports: word from the inside is that things are already getting fucked beyond belief. The recent loss of key technical people signals the beginning of yet another exodus away from a once great community ISP. One short-terming staffer's suggestion for naked Twister at the "team-building company picnic" was met with censure and disapproval. In another painfully ironic twist, the "internal communications director" of the tech staff sends out all email in Microsoft Word attachments... which no one on the technical staff can read in their UNIX mail clients. More to come... [6/19/98] Good luck to all the WENET employees and customers. Satan knows, you're gonna need it.
Will WorldCom own the backbone business? By Janet Kornblum Staff Writer, CNET News.com Published: September 11, 1997, 7:40 PM PDT The WorldCom deal could be the first of more to come, worried Scott Hazen Mueller, vice president of engineering for Whole Earth Networks, which had been involved in a dispute with UUNet earlier this year over interconnection fees. Other backbone providers could see the growth of UUNet, known as a hardball competitor, as a threat. In turn, they also may start consolidating, joining forces, and further decreasing the total pool of players. "Like a lot of people in the industry, I read all these folks talking about a big consolidation," Mueller said. "I think this is part of the first wave of this. If your competition gets bigger, you feel like you need to find some way to get bigger as well." He had a word of caution, however: "Obviously, it's hard to predict the future. But when you have few players, you have more opportunities for oligopolistic behavior."One of the reasons that David Holub had gotten fired from Whole Earth Networks is that he had pushed the company into a confrontation with UUNet, one of the biggest corporations in the Internet business, and something that had only become bigger in the first wave of mergers and acquisitions.
UUNet had been founded in the 1980s by Rick Adams, sponsored by Usenix, the UNIX Users' Association. In the 1980s, the Internet was a closed network, and a parallel network, the UUCP Network, had been built up among sites that were too small, too poor or in the wrong category to be able to get onto the Internet. UUCP worked by having the participating computers dial each other up on the phone and exchange e-mail files in an individual two-way swap. Along with this e-mail system, there was a global bulletin-board system called Usenet that shared many of the same underlying mechanisms.
When Scott was in college, he played around with e-mail, but the e-mail systems he was familiar with were just a way to exchange messages with other people on the same computer. Back in those days, PCs were still pretty expensive, and usually people at a University shared one or two largish computers by using so-called "dumb" terminals to connect to them. You sat at your terminal, doing your work or playing Rogue or Hack, and when you got bored you typed "mail" and the system would show you any e-mail you had gotten from a friend sitting at another terminal, or earlier in the day or whatever.
In 1986, after Scott graduated college, he had dialed back into CSU Stanislaus' main UNIX system to check his mail and see if anyone was around. He had noticed, on and off in the past, people running some program called 'rn', and after finding no e-mail, he decided to try typing in 'rn' and see what ensued. With two characters and a carriage return, his world was totally transformed. 'Rn' stood for 'read news', and it was, at the time, the most sophisticated program that existed for reading Usenet, the aforementioned global bulletin board system. All of the sudden, Scott found that he could read postings on hundreds of subjects, from thousands of people all around the world. Moreoever, he could post and converse with them, and as a consequence of the way Usenet was integrated with UUCP and e-mail, he could also send private e-mail messages to anyone not just on the UUCP network, but on the Internet as well as other networks like BITNET, a University network based off of IBM mainframe machines.
Relay-Version: version B 2.10 5/3/83; site utzoo.UUCP Path: utzoo!mnetor!seismo!lll-crg!lll-lcc!csustan!smdev From: smdev@csustan.UUCP (Scott Hazen Mueller) Newsgroups: net.micro.att Subject: PC6300+ question Message-ID: <138@csustan.UUCP> Date: Thu, 21-Aug-86 19:01:05 EDT Article-I.D.: csustan.138 Posted: Thu Aug 21 19:01:05 1986 Date-Received: Fri, 22-Aug-86 06:32:58 EDT Reply-To: smdev@csustan.UUCP (Scott Hazen Mueller) Distribution: na Organization: City of Turlock Lines: 8 Keywords: 6300(+) Unix(tm) MsDos We're running three 6300's at our installation (MsDos - yecch). I've heard (real) rumors that these machines can be upgraded to 6300+'s. Has anyone out there done so? Also, how much MsDos compatibility is retained? I run a CAD system that does a lot of nasty screen hacks, and the main reason to upgrade is for increased processing power for this application, but if I can't just copy files around to do the port, there is no sense in spending bucks on hardware, unix or no. Any solid info on the + will be much appreciated. Tanks advance... \scottBy 1987, Scott was running his own UNIX system at home so that he could participate in the UUCP and Usenet networks as a full peer. When he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area later that year, he began to form active UUCP connections to anyone who would talk with him. At the peak of his UUCP years, he had connections with nearly 40 other sites, including the NASA Ames Research Center. He also participated in a private Usenet network for the brand of UNIX machine he was using, an AT&T 3B1 (aka the "UNIX PC"), and as part of that activity had UUCP links with sites in Rhode Island and New Jersey. He even briefly had a UUCP connection with a site in Namibia, Africa.
One of Scott's connections was with UUNet, which had made a business of providing UUCP connectivity for a fee. It was pricey; even when Scott was very careful in how much he used it, it ran $75/month, and he was a modestly-paid support technician. Still, it was a prestige connection, and for a while his e-mail address was 'email@example.com' because he was a customer.
Rick Adams' UUNet had been a community-oriented corporation. As it had grown bigger, and moved from the relatively limited UUCP networking space into the burgeoning commercial Internet, it had lost that flavor. Eventually, UUNet was acquired by Metropolitan Fiber Systems (MFS) and MFS was in turn acquired by LDDS/Worldcom, back before Worldcom's chairman Bernard Ebbers was forced out over accounting fraud. UUNet had built an Internet backbone and the associated customer business on top of wires and fibers leased from various phone companies, but despite the expenses of doing so had agreed that they would exchange traffic for free with smaller ISPs if the smaller ISPs would come to the meeting points and connect with them there. This practice was called "peering" and many of the technicians who had built the Internet felt that free peering was in the greater community good.
MFS had built some of the major peering points (MAE West and MAE East) and they got a cut of the action when ISPs arrangede to connect into those locations, so they were happy to continue the tradition of free peering. Worldcom, once it acquired MFS (and hence, UUNet) didn't see things quite that way. They had been a long-distance company, and what they saw was that free peering competed with their long-distance carriage business, so they decided that they were going to stop it, and their one of the targets of opportunity was Whole Earth Networks.
Under its new CEO, WENet sorted out its differences with UUNet. This was very important to WENet, because it had free peering with more than one much larger ISP, and this grandfathered-in connectivity was one of the assets it felt it had to offer in a sale.
PSINet to peer with small potatoes By Courtney Macavinta Staff Writer, CNET News.com Published: August 25, 1997, 5:40 PM PDT UUNet's policy shift sent some small Net providers into a frenzy, with one of them even threatening to sue over the change. UUNet eventually pacified most of the protesters, including Whole Earth Networks and NetRail, both of which cut confidential deals to continue peering with UUNet. "I think what UUNet wanted to do was a good thing for UUNet. What PSINet is doing is good for them, but it's good for a lot of other people too," said Scott Hazen Mueller, vice president of engineering for Whole Earth Networks. He said the free peering will help PSINet build out its reach, making it a more desirable ISP. "If we don't already have an agreement with PSINet, we'll look into it," he added.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (El Sysadmin Invisible) Subject: Re: A modest proposal Date: 1998/05/23 Message-ID: <email@example.com> X-Deja-AN: 355794101 References: <m3g1i3qeks.fsf@windlord.Stanford.EDU> <firstname.lastname@example.org> <rone.FriMay22090400PDT1998.email@example.com> X-Cache: nntpcache 184.108.40.206 (see http://www.nntpcache.org/) Distribution: 4gh Cache-Post-Path: the.satanic.org!e...@localhost.satanic.org Organization: Satanic SysAdmins, Inc. Newsgroups: net.subculture.usenet stare master wrote: ] In article <slrn6m9mcu.70n...@eyrie.org>, sw <s...@eyrie.org> wrote: ] >Er, what's Zorch? ] Scott Hazen Mueller <firstname.lastname@example.org> among others. Also a head ] honcho at wenet.net. And a damn good barbeque chef. -- Eric Sorenson - root at satanic dot org - http://satanic.org Spamford got what he deserved. Is your system vulnerable? Send me UCE and find out...GST Telecom was what was known as a "fiber-based CLEC" in industry parlance. A LEC was a Local Exchange Carrier, or a local telephone company. After the judge broke up Ma Bell back in the 1980s, her offspring, the Baby Bells, were formally known as Local Exchange Carriers. A CLEC was a Competitive Local Exchange Carrier, a company that had set itself to compete with one or more LECs for local telephone customers. A "fiber-based CLEC" was a CLEC that was building its own infrastructure of optical fiber, usually on a city-by-city basis. In the late 1990s, there were several companies putting fiber into major (or minor) US cities - MFS, TCG, ICG and GST were working the big cities, and Brooks Fiber was working the smaller ones.
One difference between GST and the other players in the fiber-based CLEC space is that GST was also working on installing its own long-distance fiber runs. Part of their game was to install extra fibers and then trade those fibers with other companies so that they could increase the size of their network without actually having to dig trenches and lay cable themselves. GST's goal was to make itself into some sort of substantial phone company that serviced customers in a regional basis.
As part of their strategy of building this multi-faceted business, GST went on a bit of a buying spree and picked up ISPs in Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest. In the late 1990s, ISPs and telephone companies (telcos) were considered to have synergy - to be complementary - because the telcos owned the wires and fibers and the ISPs put signals (phone calls and data connections) onto those fibers. The idea was that the ISP would save money by getting their connections from their parent telco at wholesale rates, and the telco would save money by getting the ISP to be a guaranteed customer for their wires and fibers. In this manner, the overall company would be able to save its way to success, or some such.
There was one small problem with GST's strategy: they weren't any good at actually executing it. The first glimmering of this problem surfaced, from the viewpoint of the folks at WENet, prior to the actual acquisition. People who had been on staff at GST's prior acquisitions in Hawaii and Oregon had created a series of web pages, hosted at satanic.org (a Satanism spoof site), detailing their history with GST and their beefs with corporate management.
In a modest example of what a small world the Internet was, satanic.org was run by Eric Sorenson. Eric was the roommate of JD Falk, who was an associate of Scott's in anti-spam activism and a member of the Provisional Board of CAUCE, the anti-spam lobbying organization. As part of CAUCE's early campaign to lobby the US Congress to pass a good anti-spam law, the Board drafted a letter to Congress, printed 535 copies of the letter, 535 envelopes for all of the Senators and Representatives, and held an envelope-stuffing party. The party was held at JD's house; attendees included Scott, JD, Eric Sorenson, Sean Eric Fagan and James Glave, at the time a writer for Wired News. As part of the proceedings, Scott brought a passel of supplies from Costco and barbequed up a lunch for the crew.
Back in the 1950s, a radio comic named Red Blanchard coined the term "zorch," meaning "cool," approximately. Scott's dad was a teenager in that era, and a friend of his tagged him with Zorch as a nickname. When Scott was a small child, his dad must have thought having a son was pretty cool, because he called his son Zorch.
When Scott bought his first UNIX computer, his AT&T 3B1, he needed to have a "node" name for it in order to be able to attach it to the UUCP network. He decided that he really liked the name "zorch." When his dad objected, wanting zorch to be reserved for Scott's first son, Scott stated that he wasn't going to have kids and that he'd use the name for his computer.
It took Scott a lot of years to appreciate how that must have hurt his father.
Having named his UNIX computer "zorch", when Scott was a UUNet customer, his customer account name and signon into UUNet's machine was the name of his UNIX computer - zorch, again. In the mid-1990s, after Scott stopped being an actual customer of UUNet, he got a guest account on one of their systems to use for performing the public service of moderating some Usenet newsgroups. When the UUNet staffer told him to pick an account name that wouldn't be in conflict with one of their customers, he picked zorch as his account name.
After that, when Scott set up a computer account, if he couldn't get his first choice ("scott"), he chose "zorch" as his account name. When he arrived at Whole Earth, the account name "scott" belonged to one of his staff, so he took his second choice. Thereafter, he was known as Zorch to the people who worked for him.
Now, things didn't go quite as smoothly as they should have for Scott after his effective termination. GST disputed that they had taken any action and tried to claim that Scott had voluntarily quit his job. It took some six months of rattling his lawyer at GST to get them to see the sweet light of reason, and all things considered, it probably cost them more money in fees to their attorney, on top of the actual settlement, than it would have cost had they just paid the severance off in the first place. In addition, Scott's take-home was the same as it would have been because the tax treatment of a settlement payment differs from that for salary, so it was hardly a lose:lose situation.
Scott did retain a customer relationship with GST Whole Earth Networks, as the San Francisco company was known post-merger, for a couple of years. He had what had been a high-speed connection at the time, a dedicated 56Kbit leased line, running into WENet headquarter as one of his perqs of working there, and he retained it at his own personal expense afterward. From a distance, he saw as Whole Earth's bread-and-butter dialup business was sold off to another company, and eventually he and his leased line were sold to Time Warner Telecom.
Now, due largely do his first wife, Scott's financial situation in mid-1998 was none too good. Even though he had been making a decent salary as a vice president at WENet, and had made a couple of month's pay on the sale of the company, he wasn't in a position to take an extended leave. Instead, he took a short vacation, and spent time on his cellphone while nominally camping making calls to two potential employers.
The first opportunity he was evaluating was a second stint with Kevin Randolph. GST had bought Whole Earth but hadn't been interested in keeping Kevin on board, so he had gone to Hong Kong and was working for a company owned in part by Softbank Japan. Softbank Japan was an affiliate of Softbank US, which was the primary venture capital company behind Yahoo. The company Kevin was working with, actually a small clump of related companies, included something called Asia Communications Global Limited (ACGL) and it's child operating company, the grandiosely-named Asia Online (AONL). AONL was an ISP based in Hong Kong, roughly the size of Whole Earth Networks. Softbank wanted to figure out whether to shut it down, sell it, or build it into something bigger, and it had engaged Kevin to help it figure that out.
During the 1980s and 1990s, when Scott was active in the UUCP network world, he made the acquaintanceship of one Dave L. Rand. Dave had gone on, in the commercial Internet world, to help found and run, as the CTO, an Internet company called Abovenet. Abovenet had started with the idea of being the network "above" the Internet (hence the name), but had over time focussed more on the new market of creating Internet collocation centers - facilities where average companies could bring their computers and have guaranteed power, air conditioning, Internet connectivity and other services needed to build 24x7 platforms for new applications such as e-commerce. On top of that, Abovenet was laying or acquiring its own fiber runs and so building an even bigger business that way.
Now, at the end of 1992, Scott had made what turned out to be a strategic mistake for his career. He let his first wife's whining and crying convince him to buy a house out in the sticks, in Salida, California, best described as a suburb in Modesto. Modesto, as the reader may recall, was the hick town featured by George Lucas in "American Graffiti" and the place he got his behind out of as soon as he could.
The reason that this was a strategic mistake is that it wasn't really very tenable for him to commute from Salida to Silicon Valley or San Francisco. The commute ranged from 3 to 4.5 hours daily, depending on the exact location of the employer, and the physical and emotional toll was no longer sustainable. Scott had started, around 1995, to look for some way out of the situation.
So, in 1998 as he was evaluating the two employers, location weighed very heavily in his mind. He seemed to be having ongoing miscommunications with Dave Rand over the Abovenet position, and he had worked with Kevin for over a year at that point and got on with him fairly well. The clincher for him, though, was that Abovenet was in San Jose, and would require him to commute daily through the most-congested traffic corridor anywhere in the United States - I-680 southbound between Pleasanton and Fremont. The Asia Online job would be based in Hong Kong, but after 5+ years on the road, that didn't seem like such a bad thing.
As a result, in July 1998, Scott started with Asia Online as part of Kevin's team of consultants.
Why is it a trick? Well, think about it. If a kid likes to draw, chances are pretty good that when they grow up, they can become and artist or architect or drafter - some occupation that uses that inclination. If the kid likes to sort pencils, there's all kinds of office work their suited for. If they are a nerd that likes to fiddle with wires and electricity, they can become an electrical/electronic engineer, a computer person, a power-systems expert, or some other highly-skilled (and well-paying field).
What happens to all of those jocks when they grow up? Take a look around - how many slots are open for professional athletes, as a percentage of the population? How many kids are directed into athletic pursuits in secondary school, as a percentage? The numbers are kind of out of whack, aren't they?
Now, we're pretty open about this when we talk about minorities, and how they are deceived about sports as being a route out of the ghetto, but what about the bigger picture? How many people, in general, think that being a sports star in high school is somehow real and important? Yet a few short years later, they have a major collision with reality, and the next thing they know, they're selling life insurance, or used cars, or maybe they got a phys ed degree and a teaching credential, thinking they could teach gym or be a coach, and now they're stuck teaching math and science to the underachievers in junior high, because there's a big mismatch between the need for jocks in the real world and the supply of them our school systems are producing.
Yet we continue to worship the jocks and beat up the geeks. No wonder the countries of the world where that isn't true, where they have no such streak of anti-elitism, are eating our collective lunch. Japan may not be the club to beat America over the head with, but look at outsourcing to India and to China. Look at how many engineers and scientists are being graduated from schools in those countries, and realize that our educational system can't even master teaching basic literacy to our immigrant population.
When smart people grow up, they go in one of two major directions when it comes to how they relate to other smart people. If they have bought into the mythos that the jocks and the pretty people are the "best," and have bought into the ethos of anti-elitism, they are filled with loathing for themselves and for other smart, nerdy people. These sorts of people are insecure, territorial, and heavily invested in trying to show off to the cliques they weren't able to crack in secondary school. They are frequently vicious, and in general they just aren't that good. They and the jocks and cheerleaders can infest an organization, but they aren't as important as they think they are. They don't create new things, they don't do important work, as they are trying hard to hold onto the status quo.
If a kid has been told, when growing up, that they're OK as they are, no matter what those other people think of them, when they do grow up, they come to realize that the world outside of school has flipped around. What seemed important in school no longer is, and the people who were (self-)important then are nobodies now. That kid, grown up, likes to associate with other smart and nerdy people, the smarter the better. These are the people who head to places like Silicon Valley, not simply because they want the opportunities that are there, but because they want to associate with a lot of other people like them.
A long time ago, it actually was important to be faster and stronger than the other guy, because you were physically competing directly for the same source of food. That's a long, long time in the past, and those skills are no longer relevant in today's world. In the sort of heavily specialized society we have today, where the important competition is among ideas, the person who is best suited at working with ideas is the most successful.