Self Examination
So, who is Dan Heller? What can we learn about this intense, complex, and yet gentle and human personality (without laughing hysterically)? Not much. But we can at least consider what others have to say about him:

He's the most optimistic pessimist you'll ever meet. --Anonymous
So you know where I can find him, do ya? --Officer McDonald, NYPD
Isn't he that funny looking kid from the Partridge Family? --Generation Xer
He's got talent, charm, wit...I just love Danny Thomas. Uhhh, isn't that who we're talking about? --More Anonymous

Life: you have to be present to win.

Invitation to my 0th birthday party.
It all started way back when I was... well, zero. I was born an "only child of three". (Email me for an explanation of this expression.) On the right is a notice of my first -- or, should I say 0th -- birthday party. It is the only birthday where the announcement is made after the event. My mom attended and it was catered by the local hospital. One thing I noticed is that my mom's handwriting has never changed since she wrote this announcement. My handwriting, on the other hand, has improved considerably since then. (My typing, however, remains the same, using an age-old technique that I've mastered since childhood: banging as hard as possible on the keyboard.)

Survival: storing food in cheeks
I was born after the Great Depression (in 1962), in that ancient world where everything was still in black and white. Times were tough and food was scarce, so I adapted to the harsh environment by learning survival skills, such as storing food in my cheeks, as shown in this first photo on the left.

Impressing the Girls
(Me in the middle)
Even in early childhood, I exhibited my signature characteristic for impressing the babes with my wit, humor, smile, blond hair, and collection of dumb hats that I was eager to share with them. This helped me to get them to...well, not press charges. (I was the envy of my friends.) This picture was taken poolside, just before boarding my yacht, The Cradle Rocker. Ok, it was not really a yacht; it was a dingy... And "poolside" was really my plastic tub out in the backyard. But, hey, "dingy" isn't exactly a term you use to impress the ladies, if ya get my drift.

My first job was mowing the lawn
Scenic Canton, Ohio

9th Grade
The Band ("Shyzgifter"), 1981
11th Grade
On the left is a picture of me in 9th grade. I was looking at my first real girlfriend...or at least, the first candidate for a girlfriend. Ok, I was hoping she'd notice me. Fortunately, she wasn't looking at me as this picture was taken, since I was about to drool. After a couple years of high school, I got my bodily fluids under better control, so hair was my next focus of attention, as shown in my 11th grade school picture. While you cannot see it, I am holding a guitar on my lap. I believe I was practicing Free Bird at the time. I played in several bands during the 1970s and early 1980s, as depicted on the pictures on the right with my drummer (left) and bass player (right).

Summer, 1985
When I was 17, I went to Kent State University, mostly because it was close to home. After three years, the most important thing I learned was that women's attitudes about sex are similar to those in real estate: location, location, location. Since this wasn't going to get me a job, I decided to move to California in 1983 and attend UC Santa Cruz.
1988 Usenix
This was the best thing I ever did, for it was here where I learned the true purpose of college: to get the hell out and go to work. This was less my idea than that of the administration office, who informed me that I had enough undergraduate work to make up for a small, underdeveloped third world country. So, I left school with a degree in Computer Science (the Psych dept. wouldn't have me) and went to work for SRI Intl., followed by a short stint at Sun Microsystems a year later. The picture on the left is me having fun at Great America during "lunch hour," in 1985, just before I got the big idea of my life: that the Internet might be a big thing in the future. I decided that my contribution would be e-mail, which started years of late-night hacking.

Z-Code 1991: Me and Bart (next to wife Maija)
The e-mail program I wrote was called Mush (Mail User's Shell). It was a free e-mail program, and the first for the Internet with a graphical user interface. (You know, windows, buttons, icons.) In late 1987, Bart Schaefer started working on Mush with me, and for the next couple of years, we collaborated on it in our spare time just for fun. But, seeing that the Internet really was growing, I decided to take the project more seriously, so in 1990, Bart and I started a company called Z-Code Software (picture on right). We used the Mush codebase as the basis for the new flagship product and renamed the product, Z-Mail. It was then, and still is, if you ask me, the best e-mail system you can get. It runs on UNIX, Windows and the Mac, and has won lots of awards, including UNIX World's Product of the Year (1992) and PC Magazine's Editor's Choice (1995).

Who I am

April, 1995
I'm an armchair philosopher. I think quite a bit about life, and sometimes, when I see bad things happen, I consider doing something about it. As John F. Kennedy once said:

Each time a man stands up for an ideal
Or acts to improve the lot of others
Or strikes out against injustice
He sends forth a tiny ripple of hope."

However, someone else said,

Pick your battles carefully,
lest you win the battle,
but lose the war.

So, I compromise: I watch other people fight about ideals on TV. Don't get me wrong, I have strong ideals, I'm just too non-confrontational; I hate fighting. I learn the following lesson all too often:

No good deed goes unpunished.

So, I end up supporting those who know how to fight better than me.
Psychology interests me deeply. Not just that of the individual, but also that of the group. People act quite differently in crowds, as evidenced by politics, fads, trends and office equipment. For a fun eye-opener on crowd psychology, see this experiment on primate behavior. Or, for a quick analysis of me personally, see my personality profile, as measured by the Keirsey Temperament Test. In short, I'm mostly extroverted, although I certainly know how to entertain myself when I'm alone, mostly intuitive (people say I have keen insights and streetsmarts), and I'm equally balanced between thinking and feeling, and between judging and perceiving.

To prove that the universe has a sense of humor, hair became a less permanent condiment on my head. Ah well. But, I think I've grown internally: I'm older; I'm well-versed in the ways of the world; I leave the seat down; and I no longer get peanut butter on the sheets during certain late night activities. But intellectual issues aside, I guess I'm a social animal first, as long as people are reasonably intelligent, which requires being somewhat well-informed and on the center of the political spectrum.

Whoooa!! A political statement! Well, don't get your undies up in a bunch. I'm not like that. I suppose if I had to label myself, I'd say I was a Banana Republican, which means that I criticize both Republicans and Democrats equally harshly. Times may never change. Consider this quote:

The budget should be balanced;
the treasury should be refilled;
public debt should be reduced;
and the arrogance of public officials should be controlled."
--Cicero. 106-43 B. C.

See, even back in Roman days, someone knew what should be done. Unfortunately for Cicero, his views got him tortured and executed. (Newt Gingrich was trying to pass a bill allowing that kind of treament for Democrats, but backed down when he was warned that the Justice Department might not let it pass.) So much for diplomacy. But, let's not forget the immortal words of Plato:

Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber. -- Plato (427-347 B.C.)

The fact is, humans will be humans, and there are certain characteristics about them that are almost predictable, given certain circumstances. The stimulus-response mechanisms inherent to our natures make our current social and political climates quite mundane...even expected. There is no "solution", just a drive towards optimism. This is why I cannot subscribe to any one political doctrine; it's only the amalgamation of many ideas that brings equilibrium to our society to the benefit of all (in a lowest-common-denominator sense).

In the end, social or political positions are usually based on legitimate and illegitimate claims, and one must recognize and acknowledge them (including illegitimate claims) before a platform's credibility is attained. This is the hardest thing for people to do: acknowledge their own weaknesses, especially in the face of their opposition. As President Kennedy said,

"We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."

Extremists are very comfortable in their opinions. By contrast, those who think long and extensively about things are constantly bothered by the anxiety of inconclusiveness. Extremism only furthers the dogmatic feeling, and the more one side pushes, the more the other side pushes back. The result is a polarization between everyone, which moves us all away from the collective desired goal -- or, the "optimal truth" (since there is no such thing as "ultimate truth"). This reminds me of another quote:

"The truth shall set you free, but first it will piss you off."

View Camera Self Portrait (1)
As you can see, I love thinking and discussing (not fighting) about everything and anything... from the flat tax, the budget deficit, the national debt, religion, abortion, gun control (and other right-wing nuttiness), the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, Al Franken's latest book, whatever... The bottom line: I like laughing at stupid people, which is why I like politics so much.

I believe that stupid and bad are different things. Not all people/politicians are bad, even if they do stupid things or get caught with their pants down in the White House. I'm reminded of another great quote:

Don't accuse as malicious what can be just as easily explained by stupidity.
To defend this, one need not read further than the following joke:

Q. What's the difference between a software salesman and a car salesman?
A. The car salesman knows when he's lying.

View Camera Self Portrait (2)
I rest my case. So, if all politicians are not bad or stupid, what are they? Why do they do what appears to be bad things? Well, they're just ill-informed. Remember this gem:

The best liar in the world is a politician.
The second best liar is a statistician.

To defend this statement, consider the following true statistic:

50% of all people in the world are below average.

You can't argue with that. Also consider this:

50% is the average between 49 and 51, as well as 0 and 100.

So, it really depends on your data. I think of statistics like a bikini: what you see is provocative, but what's underneath is essential. Most people simply don't grasp how they can be easily swayed by a survey or statistical quotes. For a great (and, of course, amusing) summary of this notion, please see this set of data on Achieving 99.9% efficiency.

Before we move on, here's one more joke:

Three statisticians are out hunting when they see a deer. The first guy shoots and misses, ten feet to the left. The second guy shoots and also misses, ten feet to the right. The third statistician starts jumping up and down flailing his arms wildly, screaming, "We got him! We got him!"

Sammy, The Pooch
Speaking of stupid, I own a pooch. His name is Sam. Dogs are incredible: they have this ability to get other people to take care of them and do nothing but play, pee and hang out with other dogs. No wonder guys envy them so much. Dogs are like two-year-olds in their personality, like 25 year olds in their ability to hold their bladder, and like a 60-year-old spouse in their loyalty and devotion.

April, 1999
I really enjoy the stock market at a variety of levels. Partly, it's my source of income. But more because it's a barometric reading of the sum total of the world. You can basically place bets on the state of the world by investing (or divesting) in the stock market. The better the world is doing, the worse the stock market does. Why? Pessimism. If things are so good, things will get worse, so people sell stocks. If the world is in bad shape, then the market goes up in anticipation of things getting better. At the end of the day, if you're making money in the stock market, chances are the world is in bad shape and you shouldn't be so happy about making all that money. ;-)

Cycling: A Great Pastime
New Zealand, 1996
I exercise a lot -- I've always been active, but it's no longer an obsession. ;-) I run and do stairmonster daily (either or both), and take long cycling vacations around the world every several months. The photo on the right is me in New Zealand on a Backroads trip. I like doing outdoor stuff like hiking, but I don't consider that exercise. (If you don't sweat and breathe really hard, it isn't exercise.) What bugs me is people who do stairmaster at a real slow pace, reading a book and never breaking a sweat. Folks, this isn't exercise, it's fooling yourself into thinking you look great in that expensive outfit. And you usually do... What really kills me are those people who think they are "power-walking." No, you're doing what we call "air-punching". You're getting more exercise thinking about exercise than exercising.

All text, photos and nose character animation © 1996-1998 Dan Heller.

Photo Gallery

A Gynotikolobomassophile is one who likes nibbling on women's earlobes.