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My memories of Richard Feynman


A fire engine ride that could have turned bad
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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I was actually thinking this story happened with Chris [Sykes], but it happened with somebody. I was coming... I think from... it was a BBC crew that came to Thinking Machines. And they had heard about my fire engine and so we did the interview and I had a radio mic on. And then whoever was doing it said, 'You know, I've heard about your fire engine. Can I have a ride in it?' I'm like, 'Sure, I'll take you for a tour.' And so I climbed into the fire engine with the filmmaker, and unbeknownst to me, the sound guy just followed along with the radio system, and he climbed on the back of the fire engine. And so I had a hot mic on. I'd forgotten about the mic. And he was listening just to get the sound quality or whatever. And I was driving along Memorial Drive and there's a spot where Memorial Drive has a very, very low bridge, a very low underpass. And I said to the person sitting next to me, I said, 'Don't worry. It looks like we're going to crash into this bridge, but I've done it before. We actually have a couple of inches to spare.' And I drove under the underpass. Well, apparently the guy that was listening to the mic, he said, 'It's really unusual, I'm not usually listening to the content of what you're saying, but suddenly I heard you say this, and I'm sitting up on the back of the fire engine, and you're heading toward this underpass.' And he... so he plasters himself to top of the fire engine and he said, 'No, you exaggerated, you had at least a foot to spare.'

[Q] And you didn't know he was there?

I could've killed a radio guy, a sound guy. I felt really bad about that one. I would have felt bad.

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: fire engine, soundperson, ride, bridge, underpass

Duration: 2 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017