landing at SGI, the ratitor finds his voice
i had been attending a weekly graphics group meeting that fall and in December we had visitors come to demonstrate a new graphics machine by a company called Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) in Mountain View. The main presenter was Norman Miller, a salesperson with some technical background. He was accompanied by Peter Broadwell who had been working in the software engineering part of the company for a couple of years. i was very impressed with the system as it had its own 3D graphics library -- not in software but in hardware as a series of customized chips, configured as a "geometry pipeline" that took 3D data and transformed, scaled, clipped, and projected the 2D results onto the screen in real-time. It had a functional window system, and it ran UNIX, the operating system i'd been working on since College of Marin daze. i bebember thinking, Now there's the kind of company i'd like to work for.
After the presentation, friend Gordon Kio and i engaged Peter in conversation and talked for almost an hour. i asked if they ever hired lowly college grads and he was encouraging in his response. Near the end of our converse i was emboldened enuff by my sense of his friendliness to ask if i cood put his name on my resume as a reference. He said i cood. As i looked around in the coming weeks at what was available in the industry in Silicon Valley i realized just how much i wanted to work at SGI since they were the only ones creating machines that were right up my alley-of-interest with what i'd been doing with the thesis. i was willing to push a broom if it wood get me hired there.
After more than a month i received a call from Beat Poltera who managed SGI's hotline saying he'd like me to come in for an interview. Since talking with Peter i'd intuitively felt that if i cood just land an interview they'd make me an offer. i borrowed Giulia's car to drive over "Death's Head" highway 17 to SGI on the day the Challenger shuttle blew up. It was a strange day to say the least. i cood tell on the way over that something was very wrong since the reports from NASA were not telling what the status of the crew was one way or the other. And then walking around inside the two buildings that was SGI i found myself in a place very different from anything i'd ever imagined a corporate company's culture cood or wood be like. The people i met were animated, intelligent and exceedingly engaged with what they were doing and they imparted a highly pronounced zest for life. i had gone thru the motions of an interview to join a 2D software project at Hewlett Packard some weeks earlier but that environment conveyed the sense of people more asleep than awake and not particularly engaged with what it was they were doing.
i evidently made a positive impression and was given an offer to work on the hotline answering calls from people regarding the software side of the system. My first day of work was February 10, 1986. i am today about to complete my eleventh year at SGI and begin my twelfth. It has been an incredible "extension class" in the skool of life on so many different levels: i've been part of and watched a company that hadn't yet gone public when i joined (i was something like the 340th employee hired) maintain some of its innovative spark and grow to become quite "successful" in technical as well as economic terms; i've met so many fascinating and highly charged people and have had ample access to the same personal growth-inspiring "social environment" touted above as usually only occurring in a skool setting; working in support i've learned worlds about how to communicate with people -- especially those freshly infused with high levels of frustration and anger; and i've watched my own gifts as an information ferret and librarian sprout and flower as they never had prior to 1986.
The remainder of this story is composed of various unfinished threads. The primary filaments i want to articulate are items alluded to at the beginning: how the ratitor came to be, how the term "rat haus reality" was arrived at, and how some of the pieces that became rat haus reality, ratical branch took shape.
Before 1985 i never imagined i wood actually commute over the hill from Santa Cruz to the south bay but starting in February i did just that, first by myself rising at 4am and getting there by 5, then leaving at 2:30 in the aft to make it back home before the roads turned into "concrete" during the commute "witching hour". i kept that up until the earthquake in the fall of 1989. Hiway 17 was closed for about a month but during that time cars with two or more passengers were allowed to wind their way thru at certain hours. So Paul Hansen -- friend from UCSC daze who had since found his way to SGI as well -- and i began to carpool during this period. Since then we have pursued a course of "precision commuting" meeting at Pasatiempo at 5:30 on the button, getting into m-view around 6:10 and leaving at 3:30pm to get back home while there's still some afternoon left in the day.
When i began working on the hotline i was one of two people fielding software questions along with two other people who handled the hardware side of the fence. There was no such thing as a "support contract" but we did provide an 800 number which anyone cood call who had an SGI machine serial number. We tracked the calls with little pieces of paper.
For the first three years i maintained this position and came-of-age as one of the veterans of the fown wars. Then for the next 2 years i helped the people who answered the fowns. i had begun to work on creating pro-active resources to answer people's questions before they called us including a "4Dgifts" guest account, shipped on every machine, containing programming examples to learn by. i myself had been greatly helped with such learn-by-example source code "templates" during my classes at UCSC and i endeavored to apply this same methodology as a guideline for adding things into 4Dgifts to address the sort of frequently asked questions we'd get on the fown.
In those "early daze" SGI manifested a truly uncommon corporate culture largely because of the caliber of people who populated its community and because of its relatively small size. Many people there possessed the ever-shrinking ability to actually think for themselves and did so without fear of ostracism or other forms of reprisal. it was a very nourishing environment for me to discover and realize more of my infinite self within.
In January, 1988 i had occasion to find out just how free-spirited the place still was. On January 26th i sent out a short post to the "all" company-wide e-mail alias (there were no SGI-internal newsgroups yet) expressing my outrage at ronnie raygun's astonishingly fantastical statement made during his State of the Union Address the night before that, ""we're spending more on education than on defense". (It was indicative of the time period that i felt comfortable expressing something so "unbusiness-like" on the company-wide alias -- in recounting events of a similar nature people have before and since then said, "but won't they fire you?" SGI was a supremely uncommon place in those years.) As stated in the archive of the "conversation" that mesg engendered, "the careening course this electronic discussion took thruout a relatively ``small'' sgi back in the beginning of 1988, was one of the most exciting and memorable of times".
In deed it was. i was struck by the sense of community, so clearly in evidence thruout the free-for-all that ensued. People were actively engaged in communicating with each other! and the liveliness with which the discourse flowed was intoxicating. Of course, Cliff Thompson's concluding remark (second response) about ronnie that "The man's a shameful and vicious lying dog, and there's no way around that" certainly threw a great deal more haggis into the fledging fire and gave it its full-fledged ignition.
This experience deepened my own sense of belonging and participation in SGI as a whole. In that period a very high percentage of the company was comprised of spirited, lively, free-thinking souls and the collective spark from that population truly lit the world there during those years.
By 1990 newsgroups had come to SGI and on February 14, i posted a message to sgi.general titled "4 year milestone (sgi is 1-of-a-kind)," in which i presented a summary of what those previous four years had meant to me and then proceeded to articulate an incomplete list of 120 people by which i wanted "to acknowledge some of the beings i have encountered while ``hotlining-it'' here who certainly have made a positive difference in my life".
But 14 months later the boom came down when i was finally asked to cease posting political mutterings to the sgi.general newsgroup. i had begun posting articles now and then with a political focus at the end of 1989 to sgi.general starting with the 11/29/89 "Nukes take to the streets" article from the San Francisco Bay Guardian ("The Cypress structure collapse shut down a major artery for transporting nuclear material. Everything from medical waste to nuclear bombs may now be passing over neighborhood streets.")
Not wanting to be consigned to an impersonal sgi.politics venue, i cast about inwardly for another name and hatched the sgi.talk.ratical moniker playing spelling and semantic games with "radical". i posted a "farewell to an era, from the ratfool" mesg to sgi.general and used the occasion to announce the creation of sgi.talk.ratical. This engendered a series of responses which, as i wrote at the bottom of the farewell piece, "in reading back today, 9/5/94, feels almost like looking through a hi skool yearbook." (This was written a few weeks before the launch of rat haus reality when the initial files were being prepared.)
From the end of April, 1991 into the summer of 1994 i spent a great deal of time posting to ratical with materials culled from newsgroups on the net. i also had worked up on-line versions of materials i felt were pertinent including articles from Covert Action Information Bulletin, Columbian Journalism Review, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, FAIR, Harper's, the Village Voice, as well as collections of my own "series" including "the INSLAW case," "The Saigon Solution," (an on-line form of the 19 published articles from Freedom magazine written by Fletcher Prouty and forming the basis of the initial draft his 1992 book, JFK, The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy), the JFK assassination and articles on the CIA, a "series on the nuclear establishment: most deadly addiction of all", and a collection of posts on Krishnamurti.
Looking back in the ratical archives i find the bulk of these 1000+ posts were pumped out between April, '91 and October, '93. The first time the term ratitor appears is in June of '91. As is probably evident to those who've read this far, i enjoy playing with words. Over time, as this vernacular developed, it came to be known as "rat squeek", inspired by the way Orwell constructed the term Newspeak. In rat squeek, "Editor" was much too stuffy and detached a name. Following the tradition of applying the "rat angle" to things, the impersonal "ed" was transformed into its personalized "rat" visage. It was and is also a way to poke fun at myself which i've always found appealing.
In this impersonal modern world of ours there seems to be a lethal tendency for people to take things -- and themselves -- much too seriously --and personally. This was also the reason i preferred writing my own commentaries in lower case. By doing so, i was attempting to de-emphasize the presumption of importance that, to my mind, capitalization conveyed. i have desisted from that here simply because it is difficult to read HTML documents without the capitalized character present to delimit the beginning of sentences, but i have maintained it with regard to lowercasing "i".
De-emphasizing our own overblown self importance is, to my way of seeing things, a critical component of transforming our consciousness and thus our world. In doing so, we once again may provide the opening to truly see ourselves as simply being part of the web of life and not separate from and "superior to" it as a great deal of human activity has as its basis at this time. Self-deception is the hottest thing going on the planet today. While i am by no means free from its influence in distorting one's perception of reality, i do find the awareness and exploration of its presence to be an exceedingly relevant enquiry we all can benefit by which thus can restore the Earth, all life, and our children's children's children's future.