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Talking to people about technology

I’ve seen the future, brother

Twice before I was granted a crystal-clear glimpse into the future. I claim no credit for it, the circumstances just happened to align that way. Here’s how it went:

Summer 1999

The summer of 1999 was a time to relax and celebrate. The company I was working for was swimming in investors’ cash, we had just delivered version 2.0 of a very exciting and innovative product and we were getting ready to conquer new markets. I was just weeks away from marrying the woman of my dreams, life was good. One afternoon I was taking a break in the CEO’s office. I enjoyed telling him about the wonders of the new release and he was happy to share his adventures in the wonderful world of venture capital.

I was impressed, the numbers from the recent round of funding were excellent. A handsome sum was raised and the company’s valuation was head-spinning. And then there was one more number; apparently the monthly burn rate (in other words: the rate at which we were losing money) has also “risen nicely”. I was puzzled, “you say that as if it is a good thing” I said to my CEO. “But it is a good thing, a higher burn rate will lead to a higher valuation. If you want people to believe that you are worth five billion Dollars you should be spending millions every month” he said. “That does not make any sense” I thought, “losing millions does not make you more valuable, it’s completely backwards!”. And so, for a few seconds I saw the dot com bubble burst right in front of my eyes, months ahead of when it actually happened.

Spring 2001

By the spring of 2001 I was running technical operations for the same company out of Bethesda, Maryland. We were working on a deal with Yahoo and I was in the process of setting up some of our servers in a Yahoo hosting facilitiy in Dallas, Texas. One beautiful spring morning I was making my way to Dallas again from Reagan National airport on an American Airlines jet. It was a northbound takeoff from runway 1 and I was seated at a window seat on the port side of the aircraft. During takeoff, I could see the Virginia highways rushing past my window. Up in front, I could see a patch of blue sky through the open cockpit door.

Then the Pentagon drifted into view to my left and in an instant the air defense person in me (who had seen active reserve duty only two years earlier) was awake and screaming “this is bad, bad, bad!” I knew the drills, “airliner used as a weapon”, “airliner used as cover for hostiles” and I could see the scenario unfold before my eyes: a passenger gets up during takeoff, rushes the cockpit, knocks out the flight deck crew and grabs the yoke to bank hard left and crash us all into the Pentagon. This time it was the 9/11 attacks that I saw, months before they took place.

What you see is one thing, what you do with it is another

Those two amazing moments of clarity allowed me to foresee, almost in detail, the loss of thousands of lives on 9/11 and the loss of untold amounts of dot-bomb dollars. What’s not so impressive is what I did with those moments of clarity: I did absolutely nothing. I was alarmed for a minute, then I looked around; everyone else seemed happy enough with the situation, nobody was screaming that losing money to make yourself look big is stupid, or that cockpit doors should be secured, so I got with the program and kept quiet. I can only hope that if another moment of clarity presents itself I will have the wherewithal to recognize it and the courage to act on it.

When did you experience your moment of clarity? What did you see? What did you do or not do? Leave a comment.

[YouTube video of runway 1 takeoff from DCA, with the Pentagon at 1:00]

Category: Life, the Universe and Everything

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One Response

  1. Three years ago I moved from a big house which my wife and I rehabbed. We bought a smaller house, more suitable to our approaching empty nester status, on the water. The market was moving nicely so we didn’t worry about selling the first before buying the second.

    I had my moment of clarity when I asked myself ‘should these banks really be giving us over a mil in mortgages on my wife’s County salary (I had just set off on my own – hardly a great credit risk)?’ I, of course, just counted myself lucky and the banks fools. Now I have two houses with mortgages greater than their assessed values.

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