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
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.
(Me in the middle)
My first job was mowing the lawn
Scenic Canton, Ohio
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).
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.
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
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
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
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!"
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.
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. ;-)
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
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.
A Gynotikolobomassophile is one who likes nibbling on women's earlobes.