a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Al Gore, the 'Ozone Man'


Flipping a coin helps me meet my future wife
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

One of the problems with starting a company to do my PhD thesis work was I got very distracted with the company and I didn't get around to writing my thesis. And I kept trying to write it by going off someplace, but wherever I'd go off to, I would know there was something interesting and I would waste a lot of time finding it and get distracted. So I tried to go to Woods Hole for a while, or... so eventually I decided the only way I was going to do it was just go someplace where I didn't know anybody, so I literally went down to Logan Airport and looked around for a cheap flight to anywhere. And there was a flight down to Orlando, so I was like, great. I will get that. I got on the flight to Orlando and I just needed some place to stay. I didn't really know any place in Orlando, but I knew Disneyworld was in Orlando. So I called up Disneyworld and they had a house at the Contemporary, which was where the monorail comes through. And they had an eight-day pass. And my thesis, I knew... I'd already written my thesis in my head. It had seven chapters. So I figured, okay, I'll write a chapter a day. So I checked into the Contemporary Hotel and I had a ticket that came with the hotel to Disneyworld. So every morning I would go and I would sit in front of the Magic Castle as the parades went by and all the people went by, all the way to the end where the fireworks went off. And I would just sit on big yellow legal pads, and just write out my thesis, which I had kind of written in my head, but it was just writing it down. And every day, I would finish a chapter, until the last day I had done seven chapters in seven days. And I had one more day at Disneyworld, and I remember thinking, should I go or should I stay? And I couldn't decide, so I flipped a coin. I said, you know, heads I go, tails I stay. And heads came up, and so I had to go. And I felt so disappointed because I was going to go back to work and it would just become an ordinary day. So I thought, well, I should just do something that I have always wanted to do but never gotten around to and probably never will get around to.

So I had met Pati, and she'd always said come out to her house on the beach, and so I called her up and said, 'Hey, is that a good invitation still open?' I didn't really know her. And she said, 'Yes, come on out. I'll pick you up at the airport.' And so that's how I met Pati, who I eventually ended up marrying and having my children with. It all came down to that coin flip. So I always follow the coin flip.

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: Orlando

Duration: 3 minutes, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017