Howard: a severe brainstorm
I was sitting in the crowded, hot grotto of Wired Online one day, eyeing someone's desk and net connection, looking for a chance to jack in amongst the busy wiredlings. Someone was coming our way, into the online zone, wearing a fedora, and a purple jacket. Who is that guy? That's Howard. Howard who? Howard Rheingold.
There's a name I've heard. Finally I get to meet someone famous! He's a writer, he looks like it. No one else could get away with a wardrobe like that.
He was only visiting that day and briefly, but his presence was electric. He stopped by each station, each person, and checked them out. What were they doing? "Coool!" I'd hear. Five minutes later, "Wow. That's coool!" an appropriate one liner, the person sitting at their computer would be flushed, laughing, and happy.
Somehow, he found something worth noting everywhere he went. Things the rest of us missed in the daily bustle of the office, he would show us how cool they were, how cool we were, how much fun we should be having. He was masterful with phrases, affixing flashy fun titles and concepts to our projects and products. Being around Howard was like being in the midst of a severe brainstorm.
Being around Howard was like being in the midst of a severe brainstorm.
Photo: Steve Bahcall - June 1995
I was attracted to his electric presence. I thought everyone would be, I would have to fight for time with Howard.
Howard's big project leading up to launch was the Mickey Hart/Endangered Music Project web world. Hart, the drummer for the Grateful Dead, has released two kick ass CDs of music collected long ago from cultures then relatively untouched by Western Civilizations.
Howard listened to the CDs, collected background materials, photographs, videos etc. He designed an elaborate web site for all of it; features on the culture, sound samples, biographies, histories.
I did the HTML geeking out on the project. Midway through, the larger vision was back-burnered as HotWired chafed at the meandering scope. For Howard, this was another sign of HotWired's inability to flex for fun. He quit soon after.
By that time I'd already taught him HTML, and he'd already begun telling me stories.Howard had many tales, working on the first Alto word processor, introducing LSD to Reed college, co-sneaking the Pentagon Papers out of Rand.
He may have been Executive Editor when I met him, but the same building where HotWired had its offices and duos and indys was the same building where Howard used to collect unemployment in the 70's.
When he was first cutting his chops as a writer, he wrote a few raunchy books. Jack Savage reporting on "the War of the Gurus." A trilogy, "Mama Liz" - sex and drugs and sex. I know he does speaking tours about the Virtual Community, I would love to hear his Mama Liz stand-up.
His thesis at Reed college was called On Mind Blowing and its Methods, flipping through I saw brianwaves, LSD, yoga, i-ching and biochemistry.
At HotWired, Howard and I did not create much to further that web enterprise. We did develop a solid friendship, for which I am glad - I had found an analog buddy in a digital world.