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Waiting for news about my father
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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And then at some point we got news that my father... That the people that my father had gone to stay with had been killed. That they'd gone and they'd try to talk to one of the tribes that was friends and they had gotten killed. Or at least they'd disappeared and they'd found their passports with blood on them. And in fact they had gotten killed. But we didn't know where my father was, but yes, we got word that the people he was with...

So my mother was really worried. And she... So I felt like my job was to keep my brother and sister calm and take care of them, but at some point there was a lot of tension. My chameleon who I used to go out and catch crickets for, I couldn't find any crickets in Bujumbura, it was very... So I let him wander around trying to find his own food. And I fell asleep and he disappeared. And so I lost my chameleon.

And then my brother and sister were... We were in this empty house and we were very tense and my brother peed in his pants. And my mother got mad at him because she was very tense. And she took him into the bathroom to wash him up and was yelling at him and she was... And he was crying and I was with my sister, and just trying to keep my sister calm while my mother was freaking out basically. And so we hear my mother and my brother fighting. Or yelling or... And then the toilet flushes and everything's quiet. And my little sister looks up at me and says, 'Did she flush him down?' So I started laughing at the idea, my sister thought that my mother had flushed him down the toilet. So I was laughing. And my mother came out furious, and I was laughing, and she got mad at me for laughing. But it was a very tense time.

W Daniel Hillis (b. 1956) is an American inventor, scientist, author and engineer. While doing his doctoral work at MIT under artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky, he invented the concept of parallel computers, that is now the basis for most supercomputers. He also co-founded the famous parallel computing company, Thinking Machines, in 1983 which marked a new era in computing. In 1996, Hillis left MIT for California, where he spent time leading Disney’s Imagineers. He developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney's theme parks, television, motion pictures, Internet and consumer product businesses. More recently, Hillis co-founded an engineering and design company, Applied Minds, and several start-ups, among them Applied Proteomics in San Diego, MetaWeb Technologies (acquired by Google) in San Francisco, and his current passion, Applied Invention in Cambridge, MA, which 'partners with clients to create innovative products and services'. He holds over 100 US patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices (including a 10,000-year mechanical clock), and has recently moved into working on problems in medicine. In recognition of his work Hillis has won many awards, including the Dan David Prize.

Listeners: George Dyson Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: chameleon, tension, father, war

Duration: 2 minutes, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017