April 02, 2004

Reichart's Lessons

Went to the San Diego Futurists monthly meeting tonight at a Barnes and Noble store, to hear Baron R.K. Von Wolfshield talk about what he's learned over the years in the computer business. Reichart, as he was introduced, talks quickly. Very high bandwidth. Never heard of him before, even though it turns out we know a lot of the same people, are about the same age, and have worked in the same industry for 25 years.

Just a random list of things I thought were interesting:

  • Not part of his talk, but beforehand I overheard someone mention that at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, there are musical chimes hidden behind "huge granite slabs", but if you hit them, you can make them play a musical note. Apparently these are located near "the main lawn" as you get off the tram. Next time I go back to the Getty I'll have to check this out. Anyone know about this?

  • Some stuff about Reichart: sleeps only 4 hours a day, has been this way his whole life; dropped out of school during junior high; seems like the ultimate autodidact; self-professed ENTJ type, with his team being INTB's

  • He kept referring to his website / LiveJournal pages, but when asked for the URL, refused to give it out. Apparently everyone at this SD Futurists event knows it but me.

  • He says at any time there are 3 separate people suing him for something or other.

  • Some Disney lore: apparently Disney culture is such that if you work for another company and go meet with Disney people, they intentionally try to outnumber you in meetings. If you bring two people, they'll bring four. If you bring four, they'll bring eight. You bring ten, they bring 20. They're "horde-like" as a group.

  • "People work at Disney because they love Disney, it's so pure!"

  • According to him, the top three T-shirts in the world are:
    #1 = Mickey Mouse
    #2 = Hard Rock Cafe
    #3 = Gold's Gym

  • When he gives his resume to people, or approaches companies for work, his rule is to give references going back 10 years, and also list three enemies. "I want people to know who my enemies are." "Here's three people who hate me."

  • He spoke for a long time about his work designing gaming machines for casinos. Factoids: 50% of the gaming machines wind up at military bases. 200,000 machines are out there now, and over next 3-5 years, that number will quintuple.

  • I asked him what he thought of electronic voting machines made by companies like Diebold. His answer: "If these companies [the slot machine companies] made voting machines, I'd trust them. But they don't, so I won't." I've heard similar thoughts from Al Acorn, who was one of the founders of Silicon Gaming, an electronic slot machine company. The amount of testing and the rigor that goes into certifying a slot machine, compared to the relatively flimsy (if you believe the media) testing and certification that goes into voting machines, is enough to make one fear the demise of democracy...

  • He told a Microsoft story, saying he'd met with two execs yesterday, and one of them had told this story and he'd asked permission to retell it at this lecture. Apparently years and years ago this exec got his start at MSFT in the clip-art software division. He'd been responsible for some clip art library with some 47,000 images. Before the company shipped the product, they cut down on the number of images, and also compressed the search so it would find wildcards. For example: there used to be clip art of a playground monkeybar. After Microsoft shipped the product, if you did a search for "monkey", you would see a picture of a monkey, another monkey, another monkey, an African-American couple, and then more monkey images. The NAACP apparently went ballistic, so the story goes, and one day a team of Microsoft lawyers brought this employee into a room and asked him, "Did you do this intentionally?" He insisted he didn't, said it was entirely by accident, that if you looked at the supposedly offensive image, you'd see that there was a monkeybar in the background, and the keyword "monkeybar" had been associated with the image, and if you searched on "monkey" you got "monkey*" with the wildcard, etc. Apparently the company made the guy go down to the NAACP and meet with them and explain and apologize... Reichart's point to the story was that there are many hidden costs to products now, including reviewing them for just such inadvertent, coincidental combinations of bits that result in a possible lawsuit or offended demographic. Apparently there are now businesses whose sole purpose is to review the potential offensiveness of software products.

  • Reichart spent time talking about who he likes to do business with and who he doesn't. He says "I will not play golf", and if a business partner wants to take him for a golf game, he will not go, even if it costs him the business deal. Likewise, he won't go out drinking or to strip clubs the way dealmakers at some companies like to do. Says he does no drugs and has never even had coffee.

  • He spent a lot of time talking about contracts and lawyers. Not surprising he'd spend a lot of time about this, given his admission of being sued by at least 3 different parties at any given time. He says he even hired an attorney to spend time with him teaching him what to look out for in contracts.

  • His advice for entrepreneurs: don't get a VC. He says it's a "kiss of death" if a VC gives money, but then goes off and lets you work on your own. If you must get a VC, he says, get one who wants to be actively involved, a stakeholder, providing access to the vast network of marketing, business, financial contacts that can open opportunities for the startup.

A note about the SD Futurists meeting itself: the meeting started with a momentary, and I mean so momentary you'd have missed it if you weren't paying attention, introduction from the person (Jessica?) who runs the SD chapter. Nothing at all about how the meetings work, no info for newbies like me, no explanation of what the group is about, how to find out more, who everyone is that you're sitting next to, etc. I think it would have been a more valuable meeting if they'd spent 10 minutes going around the attendees asking them in 10 words or less, who they are, what they do, and what their interests are.

As interesting as Reichart's talk was, I'm not sure what it had to do with futurists or the future. The whole talk was about lessons learned over the course of his 25-year career.

Posted by brian at April 2, 2004 11:14 PM

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