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Rescued by the Navajo in the Canyon of Death


The 'mini-sodas' night-time story
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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One of the things with the twins is I never wanted them to have the surprise of discovering they were adopted. I wanted them to know about it from the very beginning. So I would always tell them a story when they went to bed, and very often, I would tell them the story about going up to Minnesota and adopting them in the snowstorm, and it was just one of the many stories that they would ask for as they went to bed. So usually I would tell them a few stories. And then I had one magic story that would put them to sleep, which was an old Indian story. I would tell them a lot of Hopi stories, but this one story that had magic spells that put the monsters to sleep, and they hated that one because they knew that that story would always make them go to sleep, because the spell was: may your eyes go down like honey, may your arms go down like honey, may your legs go down like honey, go to sleep. And that would put the monsters to sleep. But of course, it would be repeated enough that eventually it would put them to sleep. So they always would try to get me to tell other stories, rather than that one. And one of their favourites was the Minnesota story. I never knew why they liked it. But one day they were saying, 'Tell us the soda pop story.' I was like, the soda pop story? 'You know, the mini-sodas.' And I was, like, oh. And then I realised, I wonder how much they really understand about this story? I mean, they liked it, I told it... and I was like, 'No, that's not about... Minnesota is a place.' And I went back and I sort of explained the story more carefully. And they said, 'You mean we didn't come out of Mommy's tummy like India did?' I said, 'No, this is a story about how we adopted you.' And they looked at each other and then Asa turned to me and he said, 'We don't want to hear that story anymore.' So I was, like, 'Okay.' I figured they had the concept, they didn't want to hear the story anymore, and that was the last time I told them the story. So there was a period when they would ask some questions and I would always answer whatever question they asked. But I don't think they were that curious about it. And, you know, certainly I'd be happy to help them if they wanted to find out more. We didn't know very much, so...

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: Christopher Sykes George Dyson

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: adoption, night story, Minnesota, sleep

Duration: 2 minutes, 37 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017