That line from F. Scott Fitzgerald perfectly summarizes some of the oddball and unusual activities we’ve seen from Seattle’s wealthy tech elite. By their nature, technology entrepreneurs are a bit eccentric.
And when that’s coupled with a near endless supply of money, you can do things like travel to outer space or build a clock that keeps time for the next 10,000 years.
Here’s a look at five very unusual pursuits of Seattle tech geeks, from Jeff Bezos to Naveen Jain to Paul Allen. Let us know what you think, and how would you spend your riches if you had a billion or two lying around the house?
Naveen Jain’s lunar mission: On planet Earth, Intelius co-founder Naveen Jain mines the Internet for personal information about individuals. But the tech entrepreneur has bigger plans when it comes to outer space. He wants to mine the moon.
The 51-year-old entrepreneur emerged earlier this year as the co-founder of Moon Express, a company that has already won a $10 million NASA contract to build vehicles that could search the lunar surface for precious materials.
“I believe we are about to uncover the Moon’s many vital resources including large quantities of Platinum that will solve Earth’s present resource and energy problems and make a better world for our children and for generations to come,” Jain told GeekWire in April.
Jeff Bezos and the 10,000 year clock: The Amazon.com founder is building space rockets of his own, and he’s even looking at putting airbags into cell phones. But we’re most intrigued with Bezos’ plans to bankroll the construction of a clock — set in a West Texas mountain — that will keep time for the next 10,000 years. It is not your ordinary Timex. Bezos is reportedly spending $42 million on the clock, which ticks once a year and the cuckoo comes out on the millennium.
“As I see it, humans are now technologically advanced enough that we can create not only extraordinary wonders but also civilization-scale problems. We’re likely to need more long-term thinking,” Bezos said in a message about the clock.
Paul Allen’s search for aliens: The Microsoft co-founder may be the most eccentric of the bunch. After all, his diversity of interests are well documented, with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes saying this about the billionaire in a profile earlier this year: “I get this ‘Howard Hughesy’ feel: the planes, Hollywood. Do you think about that ever?”
Allen owns sports teams, massive yachts (complete with a submarine) and even has his own Russian MIG fighter jet. But how could we overlook Allen’s passion for finding alien life? Allen, along with former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, is one of the primary backers of SETI Institute which is on the prowl for extraterrestrial life forms.
“It’s a very, very long shot, and if they do hear something, they’re supposed to call me,” Allen told GeekWire’s Todd Bishop in an interview at Town Hall earlier this year. “But my Blackberry, nothing. It’s not even vibrating. No, imagine how all of our lives would be stimulated and changed if there were other societies out there beyond our solar system. It’s a very, very long shot. But I thought it was worth it.”
Nathan Myhrvold’s cookbook: The six-volume tome from the former Microsoft CTO and Intellectual Ventures co-founder weighs an impressive 40 pounds and includes more than 1,500 recipes and 2,438 pages. Myhrvold — who spent between $1 million and $10 million publishing the book — likes to boast that the full set of the Modernist Cuisine contains nearly four pounds of ink.
You can learn how Myhrvold and his scientifically-inspired chefs make French fries with a “light and fluffy interior and a delicate, crisp crust” that don’t get soggy or an omelet that’s “light and tender on the outside but rich and creamy inside.”
BusinessWeek called it the “most elaborate and complex book ever written,” while The New York Times noted that it “is virtually an encyclopedia of cooking, a visual roller coaster through the world of food and cooking tools.”
Bill Gates’ plan to control the weather: Bill G is best known for his philanthropic efforts to improve the health of some of the world’s poorest people, and as part of that campaign we thought about including the $42 million he’s donating to reinvent the toilet. It’s a noble cause, with Gates’ foundation noting that “billions of people lack a safe, reliable toilet or latrine.” But, in terms of the really wacky and offbeat, we traveled back in time a bit to a patent filed by Gates, Mhyrvold and others to suppress hurricanes by using a fleet of boats which would mix warmer ocean water on the surface with colder water found at greater depths.
According to the patent application: “The method includes determining a placement of at least one vessel capable of moving water to lower depths in the water via wave induced downwelling.” When the patent first came to light, a number of scientists tossed cold water on the concept, and some warned that humans were better off not trying to alter powerful forces of nature such as hurricanes.
So, there you have it, our top five weird pursuits of rich tech geeks. Who did we forget? And what’s the most unusual project you’ve seen from the mind of some tech geek?