Dotcom Storytime: Sector ZZ 9 Plural Z Alpha
Thursday, Oct 16, 2003
Before there were any dotcom stories I used to ride the bus to junior high school every day. Attending a magnet school, I and most of my classmates were bussed in from outside the school's area.

One of my best friends in junior high, and pretty much my only local friend, was Josh. Josh lived a few blocks away from me and together we explored the depths of geekdom. He taught me how to use two 10-sided dice (err, 2D10) to simulate a hundred-sided die and I'd challenge him to read tiny passages from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and time me to see if I could find the passage within 60 seconds. We both camped out in the computer lab (ahem, back of the math classroom (with a teacher I didn't discover until three years later was a post-op transsexual (not that there's anything wrong with that))) every lunch, playing Sands of Egypt and Hunt the Wumpus on donated CoCos, a Kaypro II, and an Osborne.

We weren't alone. We were part of a cadre of geeks. Erik, Vincent, and a few others. One thing that set Josh and I apart was our innate competitiveness. We'd always try to one-up the other. I'd let him play with my Colecovision, and a month later he's show me his Intellivision. We both took the SAT in 9th grade.

Nevertheless, there were differences between us. I had a self-deprecating bent, and Josh didn't ever let up. I would admit to vulnerabilities or insecurities as a part of who I am, the step backwards that can lead to steps forward in relationships. I still do this even now, though only with a few friends who I know are either ultra-supportive (Karen, Rachel) or who will be critical (Ammy, Ali), and I expose that side of me to one friend or another, depending on whether I need a confidence boost or a reality check.

Back then I didn't know myself very well, and I certainly didn't understand other people as well as I do now. Back then I based my sense of self-worth on the respect of those around me. What thirteen-year-old doesn't? At any rate, in the ninth grade Josh and my relationship changed. Maybe it was that I wasn't confident enough in my geekiness, or just that I didn't feel right sequestered away in the 'computer lab' or that I started dating that year, but the rest of the group tightened up, and as they endured the perpetual social ridicule of the non-geeks, they turned that antipathy towards me, the sub-geek.

This shift turned out to have significant consequences in my life. The next year when we all went to high school I left the magnet program to go to a high school with a very strong all-around AP program, but not a hyperfocus on one area, as is typical of the high school magnet programs. Josh and that group went to a math and science magnet. Though he still lived closer to me than any of my friends in high school, we had virtually no communication. We'd see each other rarely at competitive events like Academic Decathlon, where we each represented our schools, but we really didn't do anything more than measure each other up.

Ironically, when it came time to go to college, I intended to leave the computer arena and focus on liberal arts but, through twists of fate to be chronicled in a later post, I ended up going to Berkeley, sealing my fate firmly in the forthcoming dotcom bubble. Josh went to Reed, studying math.

Years passed, school gave way to work and back to school and back to work and back to school. One day about three or four years ago, as I do at least a few times each year, I googled friends from my former lives to see what they're up to. I was surprised to note that Josh had finished his degree and come to Berkeley to get his PhD in math. At that time I was in the 'school' sweep of the pendulum and shared a campus with him, but I never looked him up. It might have been because, with only one current friend I'd made before meeting Josh, I'd completely moved on in my life, or it might have been because I knew that we'd instantly fall into that 'sass that hoopy frood' cooler-than-thou modality, and not only would it be sad to instantly devolve ten years, but I'd probably lose, not having even finished my bachelor's degree. Another year later I noticed he got engaged at Lake Tahoe and later got married.

Josh, like Denise, Carina, John, Steve, Jeff, Dahlia, Dana, Rhett, Ethan, Nellie, and so many other faded friends, only entered my mind in the abstract, thinking about how lives are like branches, winding, sheltering, separating and diverging from common origins.

So I was taken by surprise when I got a call from my mom a few days ago, asking if I knew that Josh was working at Google.


I went to the intranet and looked him up, and there he was. It turns out he finished his PhD in May and started at Google a few weeks before I did. Different building.

The first impulse involved dropping by his cube to say hi, flashing back to the scene in Hitchhikers when Ford and Arthur are sucked on to the Heart of Gold and Ford walks in to the bridge, intent on outcooling Zaphod. To follow that storyline though, his cubemate would probably end up being Maggie or someone similarly astronomically improbable, and the whole phenomenon is better left unobserved.

My second thought was that he mush have known that I was working here. In my six weeks here I've sent out a few company-wide emails, and was introduced at an all-hands meeting. Then again, he might have said hi and I might have just not recognized him. How's that for playing it cool?

I decide to loop in my cubemate and tell her the story. She asks if I can show her a picture of him. "I've met him! He was asking about you!" She goes on to tell me that he told her he talked to me but doesn't think I recognized him, and that now he'd have to plan some elaborate situation to surprise me with his presence...

I should probably just drop by next time I'm in his building. I'll just be sure not to ask him how he did on his GREs.

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Hi, I'm Kevin Fox.
I've been blogging at since 1998.
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I've led design at Mozilla Labs, designed Gmail 1.0, Google Reader 2.0, FriendFeed, and a few special projects at Facebook.

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