Monday, April 22, 2013

Overture: Flying Upside Down

Drawing by Linda Harrison

In January 1975, the personal computer was born and I started flying upside down. Everything I knew, every experience I had, before this moment in time was suddenly irrelevant. My life changed completely and forever.

For the next 25 years I soared, tipped my wings, looped, spun out of control, nose-dived, nearly crashed, actually crashed, put myself back together, soared again, crashed again, soared again. I launched magazines, websites, online radio stations, TV programs, conferences, tradeshows, book imprints, software and Internet companies-- most often without the aid of business plans, because, hey, who has time for planning. I hung out with billionaires and soon to be billionaires. 

Profiles and photos of me appeared in The New York Times, LA Times, US Today, The Wall Street Journal, Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle and too many trade publications to mention. I was frequently on national TV and spoke at conferences around the world. I make millions. I gave away millions. I lost millions. 

I worked hard and played hard, raced sports cars, lived in mansions, left ridiculously large tips in fancy restaurants, drank far too many martini’s, had girl friends, left my family, was busted for smoking crack, went to jail, recovered, returned to my wife, bought a ranch in Colorado, stocked it with wild horses and buffaloes, started a community computer center for poor people, joined the board of the ACLU, and rescued my son from Hollywood only to lose him forever in a Waldorf Astoria Hotel room.

During this time I observed and participated in virtually every technological innovation from the first personal computer (the Altair 8800) to the first portable computer (the Osborne One), to the first spreadsheet (VisiCalc) to the IBM PC, the Macintosh, Microsoft Windows, Interactive CDROM and multimedia, the beginnings of the biotechnology industry, the Internet, the broswer wars, search engines, the Dot Com bubble and bust, Web 2.0, and social networks. 

My colleagues and acquaintances included inventive geniuses, unlucky dreamers who let themselves be royally screwed, megalomaniacs, ruthless empire builders, the real pioneers and prospectors, the deserving and accidental billionaires, the ones who should have made it but didn’t, and the one’s who did make it even though they had no real talent. 

Some of the characters among them the “Father of the Personal Computer,” Ed Roberts, Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, The two Steve’s from Apple, the visionary inventor of hypertext, Ted Nelson,  Gary Kildall, Lee Feldstein, Adam Osborn, Dan Bricklin, Bob Frankston, Howard Reingold, John Brockman, John Sculley, John-Louis Gassee, Mitch Kapor, Bill Ziff, Pat McGovern, Ted Leonsis, Steve Case, John Doerr, Stuart Alsop, Jerry Yang, Esther Dyson, Heidi Roisen, Tim Draper, Dave Winer, Trip Hawkins, Richard Saul Wurman, Jaron Lanier, John Brockman, Robert Swanson, Eric Schmidt, Larry Ellison, Meg Whitman, and the list goes on.

Those were heady days. Sometimes I was in control, other times I flew autopilot. Either way it was full throttle. I was boring holes into the sky.