House of the Setting Sun and Many Gates.

I Find Karma (
Thu, 20 Aug 1998 15:00:06 -0700

Tuesday night, upset because I missed Joe Barrera's visit yet again,
upset because Rohit had made me feel like garbage for a reason I cannot
even remember any more, upset because Bill Clinton is making me nervous
and cynical, upset for a million reasons that I cannot even begin to
articulate (in the words of Barrera, I've been having a really bad
month), I got the opportunity to forget about life for a while.

With my roommate Dan Davenport and roughly 100 Windows NT 5 developer
interns (NT5 Beta 2 shipped Monday) and maybe 50 other managers and
recruiters (but they were very explicit: no guests are allowed, not even
Microsoft employees), we were invited to visit Bill Gates' home, which
used to be described at

until, I surmise, someone threatened legal action. So, the picture on
the Web to accompany this adventure is in an uncomplete state at

where it is affectionately called the "Ecology House," a 40,000 square
foot behemoth (spread over five acres, comprising the land from five
houses before it) of a waterfront home costing roughly $53 million.
Situated in the hillside along the east bank of Lake Washington, Bill's
house can be seen by over 350,000 daily commuters on the I-520 Evergreen
Point Floating bridge, which is just to the north of the house.

Trey's Place is in fact a wired-to-the-max "home of the future" rigged
with centrally controlled music, "smart" lighting, and video-wall
entertainment, as Bill Gates discussed in his "Road Ahead" book in 1995:

So at 5:45pm Tuesday, we the wide eyed bushy haired interns-n-pals
entered the equipped-with-toilet bus at building 31 on the Microsoft
campus, and cruised out the 84th street exit of I-520, weaving through
the ever-tightening coastline streets before getting to 79th and 24th,
at which point the streets get too narrow for such a bus to pass easily
without use of magic. At that point, we entered shuttle vans at the
Bellevue Christian Elementary school, ten at a time. We got to the edge
of 74th, among lots of houses that were not waterfront and did not
exactly look like they were even in the same tax bracket.

7400 in gold letters protruding from the Great Walls of Bellevue, as if
to say, "Welcome to Casa Bill."

To say that there were security forces there is an understatement. This
house is more heavily guarded than the White House. The primary
security guards seemed to have *secondary* security guards guarding
*them*, if that makes any sense. Everyone had those CIA-type earsets
for communication, as well as high tech walkie talkies just to be
ostentatious. I wonder if they are there full-time, or were just there
to comfort us as we drove through the gates of house Gates. When Helen
Keller wrote that "security is mostly a superstition," she had clearly
never been here. Not even in spirit.

As we took the twisty road down the wooded hill, we noticed an above the
ground perfectly arched "Garage Mahal" -- with space for at least 20
cars. Some of the vehicles parked there at the time were the
superdecadent style of automobile for which Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld
are famous; others, frankly, seemed like the kind of slave wage servant
car that I drive. ("Nissan... buy us because we make cool commercials!")

We stopped at the circle in front of the house and unloaded. It
suffices to say that every material used in the house is top quality
polished wood, vaulted ceilings, well-shined marble, etc, so when you
gaze at the house from the top of the hill for the first time, you are
bowled over by its flawless beauty. Bright fresh flowers decorated the
exterior and tastefully accentuated the interior.

Now unfortunately, this was a barbeque, which means all we saw of the
house was this: a long, airy stairway beside a brass-and-glass elevator
built into the contour of the hillside, with a (dark brown stained)
woody, (overly) windowy Northwest architectural style, reminiscent of
the downtown Seattle REI store: lots of exposed wood, rock, concrete,
flowing wooden stairways and open space.

As we stairwayed down, we saw the picture featured in "Good Will
Hunting" (or was it "Chasing Amy"?) of a rowboat at sea, classic movie
posters such as Errol Flynn in Robin Hood, priceless looking vases, and
a multitude of flat screens displaying artwork of every style.

And no, contrary to popular myth, there was no Dante-esque sign readable
during the descent that opined, "Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate."
Sorry to disappoint you.

The stairway took us down four floors, each of which had hidden doorways
(presumably into the house). The bathrooms on each floor as we poured
down the staircase were straight out of a 5-star hotel: round sinks,
liquid soap, immaculate bowls, and fresh towels with a towel basket for
dumping the used. I thought of Trainspotting: "Brilliant gold taps,
virginal white marble, a seat carved from ebony, a cistern full of
chanel number five, and a flunky handing me pieces of raw silk toilet

Because this was a barbeque, we exited the stairs onto the main lawn,
literally on Lake Washington. Thus I had no opportunity to partake in
the famed movie theater, the fully fledged bar with huge flat screen
television, the 100-visitor reception hall, the arcade, the bowling
alley, the shooting range, the carousel, the Bat Cave, the
racquetball-volleyball court, the basketball court, the hockey ring, the
football stadium, the library or the alcoves or the vestibules or the
verandae, the $1.4 million caretaker's residence, the indoor trampoline
pit with requisite 20-foot ceiling (sorry, Rohit), or the 60-foot-long
pool with underwater music, as described by the Washington Post

> To their right was a huge room big enough to seat 100 comfortably at
> round tables for dinner and on one wall of this room were 24 video
> screens, each with a 40-inch picture tube. They can display 24 different
> images or just one. On this night, they played the Vienna Philharmonic
> in concert.
> On the opposite side of the foyer was the exercise room and spa, in
> close proximity to the indoor swimming pool. It is no ordinary pool.
> Sixty feet long, with speakers built in to pipe music underwater, there
> is an ancient fossil imprint of a palm frond the size of a sapling in a
> massive slab of cream-colored stone behind the diving board
> which is made of gleaming wood, not ordinary fiberglass. The fossil
> motif is repeated on the floor. Sliding glass doors separate the pool
> area from the outdoors.
> Or guests could have moved from the foyer to Gates's 20-seat private
> theater, with a large screen for showing high-definition television
> images. The theater chairs were plush and comfortable, each furnished
> with a small table and lamp.
> ...
> The room that seems to impress guests the most is the library, a suite
> of three rooms connected by arches, the center room crowned by a dome.
> In the library, carefully crafted shelves are loaded with rare editions.
> Opulent chairs are tastefully arranged by a leading interior designer.
> A special nook has been constructed to display one of the owner's most
> prized possessions, a scientific notebook kept by Leonardo da Vinci in
> the early 1500s. Leonardo's distinctive, mysterious, backward-running
> manuscript cost about $30.8 million.

Other amenities and/or details I missed out on described by

1. No visible electrical outlets anywhere. Gates does not like "clutter."
2. 112 steps from the main floor to the main entry (or take the
3. Wood columns from main floor to roof in entry area are 70 feet long.
4. All timbers used inside and out are finished the same - 3 inches have
been removed from the exterior of the wood and then sanded to a satin
finish and there are virtually no knots.
5. All bolts throughout the house are stainless steel and oriented the
same direction.
6. All woodwork is flawless. Much of the woodwork is of various rare
species from all over the world.
7. Some of the interior passage doors weigh over 800 pounds, but are
balanced for easy use.
8. Acoustics are a concern throughout. Various woods and fabrics are
used. Acoustic panels in the Ballroom move out of sight on their own.
9. Roofing is stainless steel.
10. Floor is heated everywhere including the driveway and walks.
11. Security system (automated and personnel) is redundant. Hidden
cameras everywhere including interior stone walls. Sensors in the floor
can track a person to within 6 inches. System is monitored at the
Microsoft campus.
12. Gates has a personal 4-car garage. House for the maintenance staff
has its own 3-car garage. Nanny parks in the 6-car carport across from
the main entry. An additional 20 cars can be parked in a subterranean
arched concrete building which through an electronic transformation
becomes a basketball court.
13. Nanny lives in plush quarters near the Gates' bedroom.
14. Existing cedar tree was determined by Gates to be in the wrong
location and moved 6 inches.
15. Gates insisted on saving a 140 year old maple adjacent to the
driveway. The tree is monitored electronically 24 hours per day via
computer. If it seems dry, it gets just the right amount of water
automatically delivered.
16. An 18 hole putting range and a salmon hatchery.
17. If you wish, your favorite music will follow you throughout
the house - even at the bottom of the pool.
18. Many doors are blended so well with the walls that it is hard to
see them.
19. Theater (underground in a concrete shell) is the most state of the
art theater in the world according to specialty contractor.
20. Entry gate senses when your car approaches and opens fully by the
time you arrive.
21. Very old antique cabinets from China have been brought in and built
into the walls with adjacent paneling built to match the cabinets exactly.
22. 52 miles of communication cable in the building.
23. Shower curtain next to the spa is a 4500 pound slab of granite.
24. Melinda has 42 linear feet of clothes hanging space in her closet
operated like a dry cleaner's rack.
25. Master bathtub can be filled to the right temperature and depth by
Gates as he drives home from work.
26. Only two guest bedrooms.
27. There is a 28 foot high cantilever retaining wall.
28. Reinforcing steel in all concrete is four times the code minimum.
Number 18 steel wrapped with number 5 ties was common for simple columns.
29. There is a loading bay within the building.
30. An interior designer disagreed with the layout of a portion of the
home. Demolition resulted and 160 cubic yards of cured, cast-in-place
concrete was removed.
31. All building officials were suffering "sensory overload" shortly
after the 3-hour tour started.

Clearly I am going to have to make (and/or steal) several billion
dollars or run a competing company or get elected to public position
before I will be invited to check out those amenities.

Don't hold your breath.

So where was I? Oh, the entrance to the main lawn.

To quote Bill Gates' library quoting Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby,
> "He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have
> seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it."

Of course, the main lawn was not blue, but I was. Rather than be green
with envy, I was blue in the knowledge that there was no way 99.99999%
of our planet could even begin to fathom the level of decadence that
megadollars can afford.

The main lawn was greener than a well-kept golf course. I mean, the
kind of green grass requiring serious amounts of manure and/or vomit to
foment. It was just beautiful.

Twenty twelve-seat white round tables were strewn across the lawn, with
immaculate white chairs and shady umbrellas. At this point, it was only
6:30pm, and the house is right on Lake Washington facing the West, so we
were to have a perfect view of the setting sun as it was swallowed by
the Emerald City past the lake. The huge windows we had passed en route
to the lawn also look westward across that picturesque lake toward the
amazingly sterile (by Los Angeles) Olympic mountains.

Two barbeque pits were wafting the aromas of meats and veggie burgers,
and two open bars on either side of the tables were ensuring that
everyone's liver was properly served. The food was fresh and delicious.

To the right of the tables were a beautiful indoor-outdoor spa (sorry,
the hot tub was closed!) and a rocky path leading out to a pier. To the
left of the tables were a children's playground, a 1,700-square-foot
guest "cottage," what looked like a putting green, and another, bigger
pier with several canoes and room for several boats to dock (including
at the time a double decker motorboat for foraging around Lake
Washington), overlooking the golden pond.

So I am standing there at the beer pit, drinking a beer, surrounded by
Microsoft recruiters who are very kind in refusing to acknowledge that
in my current unbearable lightness of being, I am not very useful to
Microsoft, nonetheless trying to convince me to come work here. Sigh; I
am not playing hardball, I am being real. Every time I finish my beer,
the bartender immediately and effortlessly replaces it with another.
The recruiters and I finally get in the food queue, and I make myself
the biggest, freshest salad I've had since I arrived in Seattle. I feel
like crunching greens: although I feel like I have not nearly done as
much as I would have liked since I got here

at least the stock price of the company has soared from 85 on June 8 to
111 as of August 18. That's as much as a contribution percentage-wise
as I made to Hewlett Packard (stock price when I started at HP: 42;
stock price when I left HP: 68). Yeah, right, companies should hire me
*not* to work for other companies...

And as I am walking to the pier with my salad and my beer, talking to
recruiters because they are far more interesting people than undergrad
NT developer interns, I walk right by Bill Gates. Didn't even recognize
him without his wife, Melinda French Gates, or their daughter, Jennifer.
Meanwhile, my roommate Dan tried to sit down next to Bill and was
nastily ousted by a group of marketing (or was it sales?) people who had
laid claim to the prime real estate by the pearly Gates.

Went out to the pier, and complained to my recruiter that we had not
seen Bill Gates yet. My recruiter, Marc, looked at me and said, "You
walked right by him." I gazed back but could not see the tables from
the pier at the bottom of the hill. "You're kidding, right?" I asked.
He said he wasn't fooling, so I went back to get a napkin.

Okay, at this point I feel like I should point out that I am awful in
the presence of greatness. When my wife and I saw Jason "George
Costanza" Alexander last December, I sat there drooling like an
australopithicus, while she walked calmly up to him and complemented him
and shook his hand as he called her "Very kind."

Mind you, my problems with celebrities have dated back as long as I have
had brushes with greatness. In 1986, when I was first learning how to
drive in Wilton, Connecticut, I stopped paying attention to check out
David Letterman jogging on route 33 in Ridgefield, and swerved when I
regained control of the wheel, barely missing him, resulting in him
giving me the finger and smiling a nasty gap-toothed grin at me as he
continued to run on the snow-covered, subzero road. Nice guy. Chuck
Seitz, inventor of the multicomputer, called me an idiot when I took his
VLSI class, and Alan Kay called me an idiot when I attended his History
of Programming Languages II talk. At Object World West in 1993, I got
in Steve Jobs' way as he was walking to the pulpit to give a speech, and
he called me an asshole. Guy Steele scoffed at me, Robert X. Cringely
yelled at me, Gary Sinise looked at me as if I were a stalker, and Kevin
Costner screamed at me for letting my advisor's dog poop on his lawn
during one of our "Dottie Walks." Heck, even the director Adam Rifkin
hasn't returned my phone calls in months, and he's got my name.

I'm walking and suddenly Bill is in my line of sight. I'm standing
there, with only beers and butterflies in my otherwise empty stomach,
staring at Bill Gates. The other 11 sales (or was it marketing?) people
around him at his table were nervously eating their food. No one spoke
a word; it was eerily silent. He's dressed in an Izod-like blue
collared shirt and khakis, colored socks and boat shoes. Very casual.
His hair looked like I was his barber.

Basically, he looked just like me, only thinner and with glasses, and
calmer. Definitely calmer.

And all the beer I had consumed suddenly became very apparent to me. I
wondered how uncool it would be to vomit on the lawn of the richest man
in the world ($62 billion according to the Bill Gates Personal Wealth

) right in front of him. Hey, at least the grass would be greener as a
result, right? Worse, I imagined how uncool it would be to puke on him.

But mostly at that moment as I'm watching him and turning green from
overhopping, I'm thinking of Bruce Epstein's list

of how rich this person is.

> "Bill Gates is so rich, he has his own Pope."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he has someone to stir up his fruit on the
> bottom."
> "Bill Gates is so rich that he Fed Ex's his Christmas cards."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he has someone to peel those stringy things
> off his bananas."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, that he could buy five Larry Ellisons, and
> still have money left over for a Ross Perot."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, that he has custom-printed deposit slips with
> room for more zeroes."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he could buy all the pies in Belgium."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he's even suspicious of his dog's affection."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, that is someone else eats the last cookie, he
> can send someone out to get more."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he could wallpaper his bathroom in $1,000
> bills, and it wouldn't measurably affect the value of his house."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he can afford a Partridge Family bus with a
> Danny Bonaduce as his chauffeur."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, his wife doesn't bother asking him to take out
> the trash."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he can call Warren Buffett, 'Boy.'"
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he can pick his friends' noses."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he's afraid to bank in person, for fear that
> bank employees will stick him up."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, his portfolio could drop 99% and he'd still be
> wealthier than anyone you know."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he could buy Janet Reno's affection."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he can afford to have the screen version of
> 'Titanic' recreated live for his birthday."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, that he could wear a Monica Lewinsky beret,
> and just be considered eccentric."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he could afford Oprah as his personal trainer."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he has $100 million for every pound Oprah has
> ever lost dieting."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he could fund his own ballet company, with
> himself as the lead dancer, and it wouldn't matter if no one paid to
> see him."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he could hire the Green Bay Packers to play
> the Denver Broncos in his back yard."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he could host his own Olympic Games, and give
> out one-ton gold medals."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he could afford a really cool train set
> running all around his house."
> "Bill Gates is so rich, he could buy the press's silence on his naked
> two-man luge escapade."
> And so on...

You get the point. Now, he must have seen me shaking or in deep thought
or staring into the sun or something, because he turns and looks at me
with a cocked head. And I start to talk, almost instinctively, at a
hundred thousand words a minute (Mark Baker can attest to this) about
who I am and where I come from and what I'm doing and all my hopes and
dreams and fears and aspirations and everything I'm capable of and who I
want to someday be and why birds suddenly appear every time he is near
and how I'd like to get naked and jump in his hottub and then of course
an apology for not stopping my thoughts before they got to my mouth and...

He takes a huge bite of his burger, swallows it, and says to me one word.

Stopped my rattling in my tracks. One word is the extent of how much
interaction I've now had with Bill Gates.

"Relax," he says, and shakes my hand as I gaze into his eyes.

I bow (sort of) because I am floored. I have nothing to say and all
night to say it. Eye to eye momentarily, I then back up so cautiously
that except for the beeping noise I was like one of those big moving
trucks, you know, doing the backup thing.

And then I was gone, my nerve completely shot, running back for the pier
and my beer to talk with the recruiters some more. How embarrassing.
Even Bill Gates thinks I'm a high strung lunatic. Hey, but at least he
didn't call me an idiot or asshole to my face, or give me the finger. I
guess this is progress, right? Like Chris Olds says, I'm growing up.

Come to think of it, this would not be the first time a multibillionaire
had expressed such plain sentiments to me. Rohit was with me in October
when we met Warren Buffett, and he also exuded a similar attitude:
"Relax, things will work out."


How can I relax when there's so much to do in the world??? How can such
busy people prescribe such pedestrian advice??? What good has ever come
from relaxation???? Certainly you cannot have bazaars this way -- you
cannot even build cathedrals this way!!!!! And I suppose you want me to
remove all punctuation marks from my writing, too.....?!?!?!?!!!?!?!????

Okay, back on the pier, talking with recruiter Colleen, who is the
auspicious recipient of affection from a guy who's found her compelling
since high school (although she only gave him the green light last year --
see, Dobbin, stalking *does* work :). A shiny, happy person who with
her recruiting partner Craig plans a Jerry Maguiresque commitment to
"personal attention" as they sweep up and down the east coast colleges
vacuuming up some of the 6000 recruits Microsoft plans to hire in 1999.
(There will be 4000 or so recruits this year; other stat is that there
are 800 interns this year and will be more than 1000 next year; another
stat is that Microsoft Research now has 350 or so people and hopes for
another 250 in the next 2 years; MS Research had around 60 interns this
summer, 59 if you don't count me. :)

Dinner finished, we head back to the lawn where Bill has gotten up to
give a post-meal talk about the value of NT5 (as Beta 2 ships to the top
250,000 testers in the country) and how invaluable the majority of the
attendees there (the NT5 intern geeks who wrote some of the code in the
final shipped product) had been to the company, and that he hoped they
would all come to Microsoft when they were finished with school (well,
he hoped for all but the 3% of interns who aren't made offers by
Microsoft when they do graduate).

Dessert consisted of the freshest fruits and what can only be described
as a chocoholic's dream of confectionary and culinary delights. Dan and
Colleen and recruiters Scott and Jill and others sit down at the table
with several developers including one (not intern) guy who's a total NT
stud (although I didn't catch his name) and apparently one stressed out
day during high NT coding he took a lunch break and bought a sporty
2-seater car (a Spider or Miata or something, you get the point) on a whim.

Actually, this is like the third or fourth such story I've heard like
this. Any developer or program manager who's been here five+ years (or,
any dev/PM who was at a company that got bought out and who's been here
one+ years) can make such high-figured spontaneous impulse-buys and not
think anything of them

But ah well. Jill tells me about a 20something friend who lived to grab
life by the horns and have adventures to the fullest, until his untimely
death last year. She tells me about an evil former boss and a bad
relationship, and yet she's chipper and cheery about it. Meanwhile, I
have nothing bad happening in my life, and yet I've been so sad and
angry and slacking and miserable and cynical lately...

In a sense, I found inspiring her ability to share bad situations with a
complete stranger such as me, and then reflect on these situations, and
return with a positive outlook on life. By contrast, I'm still sitting
here without a firm grip on my life, and the only thing positive I can
muster is how positively awful I've been lately. August *IS* the
cruelest month, and I for one cannot wait until Dog Days '98 are over...

The sun sets over Lake Washington as the party winds down. There are
lots of kinds of light, but only one darkness in the House of Bill.

At approximately 9pm they announce that they are about the release the
hounds, and that we can either get off the property or become dinner.
I'm reminded of that Groucho Marx mantra, "Outside a dog, a book is
man's best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to see."

Not wanting to be inside a dog, Dan and I climb back up the REI-like
staircase with some of the recruiters, grab a momento Microsoft frisbee,
get in the shuttle, to the air conditioned bus, back to campus, hop in
our car, go home, pop Jerry Springer's "Too Hot for TV" in the VCR, and
consume beers and whiskey until we pass out. The next day, we wake up
sticky, broke, and confused. What's the line from the Semisonic song?
"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."

All we were after was a good time. All the rest is propaganda.


11:15 Restate my assumptions:
1. Mathematics is the language of nature.
2. Everything around us can be represented and understood through
3. If you graph these numbers, patterns emerge.
Therefore: There are patterns everywhere in nature.
-- Pi, the movie,