warning! this is a long document that you may find boring! you have been warned.
My parents, born days apart in 1942, spent their childhood in Berkeley. My father Paul came from a low-income family of political dissidents; my mother Ruthie from a middle-class neighborhood near College Ave. Both came from families which had been on the west coast for generations.
My father, after recovering from polio in his early teens, succeeded in finding work as a carpenter. By 21, he had a wife and daughter, my half-sister Maia. The marriage was brief, and disillusioned by the American dream he wandered through the bay area on a large Czechoslovakian motorcycle. My mother also had a brief, early marriage. When it ended, she wandered as well until meeting my father and living together for some time in Berkeley.
In the mid-60's they took a trip to a place called the Tassajara hot springs, in the mountains above Carmel. There they encountered a handful of Zen Buddhists building a retreat center. They needed my father's skills as a carpenter which led to my parents staying there for the remainder of the decade, studying Zen, growing vegetables, and helping build what is now known as the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. My father built many of the structures that are there today, including the zendo, kitchen, and baths. He was ordained a Zen priest around 1970.
On November 16, 1970, they had a son Benjamin Wood Discoe. The middle name came from a great-grandfather. I was a large baby, over 10 pounds with bright red hair which soon turned blond.
When i was a few months old, they moved to Japan, to the countryside outside Kyoto, where we lived for 5 years. My father studied traditional Japanese carpentry and temple building; my mother raised me & gardened. Japanese was my first language. I went to Japanese preschool, watched Japanese TV, and resisted my parent's attempts to have me speak English. (Today, I speak only a little Japanese, and never learned to read and write it beyond a first-grade level.)
The marriage fell apart around 1975, upon which they returned separately to the US. My father went to live at the San Francisco Zen Center's other location, Green Gulch Farm near Muir Beach in Marin County. My mother and i lived with some genuine hippies for a while at the bottom of the Feather River Canyon near Paradise in northern California. Entering first grade, i picked up English rapidly, briefly struggling with the pronunciation of sounds like 'th'. My mother met her third major life partner, Jim Bernaert, and in 1977 we moved to the small town of Honoka`a on the Big Island of Hawaii.
We were very poor, but my "Hawai`i parents" as i now think of them worked hard to build a life. I went into the local public school, which was a total disaster; as nearly the only haole (white) kid in school i attracted a lot of abuse and didn't learn much. My mother pulled me out after a year and a half and home-schooled me to the age of 10, at which point my father asserted custody and put me in school in Mill Valley for the next 5 years. I began at at well-funded public school with a cool teacher who brought a Big Trak into the classroom; it was the first thing i learned to program, followed by an Apple IIe with Logo, then BASIC, etc.
I lived the next 5 years at Green Gulch with no friends, an evil stepmother, total alienation at school for being smart, long sickening school bus trips and general, all-around misery. I suppose adolescence is awful for damn near everybody; my nightmare lasted till my first year at college. I lost myself in schoolwork and latched desperately onto computers - hacking early machines such as the IIe and C64 with glee, moving from BASIC to Assembly like most geeks at the time.
At age 15 i went to a personal growth workshop and realized that i was less miserable in Hawai`i, so i moved there for my last 3 grades at Parker School, a small private high school in Waimea. I continued to not fit in with the local culture - i didn't play sports, didn't surf, didn't get stoned or drunk, didn't do anything socially rewarded at all. I bought myself an Amiga 1000 and learned it inside out; taught myself first Pascal then C. I discovered angsty music and took inspiration from the philosophy of Bucky Fuller and the psychology of Abraham Maslow.
School was trivial; my SAT scores garnered the attention of Caltech. When they interviewed me, i showed them a program i'd written to construct and interactively simulate a dynamic system of idealized forces. I thought of it as a fun program with bouncy objects to play with; they accepted me in 1987.
At Caltech i struggled firmly, but was largely unprepared by my previous schooling to cope with the staggering demands of the hardest technical school in the country. After absorbing 1.6 years of vigorously advanced material, i found myself no longer able to focus on the coursework, but instead drawn to the fascinating world of 3D solids, regular and semi-regular polyhedra. I built countless paper models and started on a 3D modeler to model them more quickly and flexibly. This was the most idealistic time in my life; as a hardcore deep ecologist, rationalist, and vegetarian i felt i had the answer for everything. To this day i still avoid red meat, diligently bicycle&recycle, and have a nearly objectivist approach to all matters philosophical, although for 4 years i did give in to the seductive evil of car ownership.
After dropping out of Caltech, i went to Berkeley where i rented a closet, just big enough for myself and my computer, on which i expanded the modelling software and added a realtime renderer. When i ran out of money, i got a job in San Jose working on a multiplatform DBMS.
During the early 90s i was quite vigorously earnest ecologically; living in the bland ugly low-density sprawl of South San Jose without an car was a difficult experience, cooking my own food made from raw organic ingredients carried on bicycle from the next city over. For more than a year, i would make a weekly journey on transit up to Berkeley to spend the weekend in a place with culture. In 1990 i went up to Arcata (Northern California) for 'Redwood Summer', a campaign of nonviolent mass protests against corporate liquidation logging.
The DBMS job paid the rent and was my first work experience for 1.5 years, at which time, through my then-girlfriend Elizabeth (Zeb) and people involved in Mondo 2000, i got a job doing virtual reality at Sense8 Corp. I was already familiar with low-polygon 3D graphics from my own hobby, so i fit right into the job. The job put me back in Marin County where i spent over 5 years, mostly in Mill Valley and Larkspur. I worked my way up from testing and tech support to core development and eventually services, implementing VR scenes for clients. From around 1995 onward i discovered and had many adventures in the Rave community.
In 1997 i got hired by Intel and had to move back to the South Bay (bleh!). That lasted 3 years, during which, in the comfortable environment of their Graphics Research Lab, i was able to develop my current passion. In order to live in the South Bay, i had to buy a car ('97 Honda Civic Hatchback), which allowed me to go to Burning Man, and attend nightlife and maintain relationships outside of Santa Clara. Finally, in 2000 i escaped and moved north to San Francisco with my raver girlfriend Cassandra.
I spent two years living with Cassandra in SF, first out in the Sunset district (just south of Golden Gate Park, primarily Chinese), then a year on the Embarcadero in a yuppie hive which was within walking distance of all 3 local transit systems (Muni, BART, Caltrain), hence a high degree of mobility without having to use the car. I spent a year of commuting down to Palo Alto (by train) to work on software for VR gloves. This long train commute gave me a wonderful amount of free time to read and study, which i used to start learning to read and write Romanian. After the glove company, i found full-time employment with the Open Planning Project in Manhattan. After jet commuting for 6 months, i finally just moved to New York City during a blizzard in February 2003.
NYC was a wonderful 2-year experience. I rented an apartment in the Lower East Side (Essex&Rivington) at an exorbitant rate which required me to keep it filled with an assortment of paying roommates, a cast of diverse and interesting characters. With plenty of Romanians in the city, i was able to continue learning the Romanian language with two tutors, and to make several wonderful trips to Romania (2003, 2004). When work with the OPP ended in mid-2004, i shifted to consulting, providing software and support based on the VTP. Living in the city was amazing, especially the subway - among the benefits of intense density, i could walk home at 3AM and enjoy 24-hour pizza along the way. I bought a bicycle and enjoyed Critical Mass as i had in San Francisco.
Shortly after arriving in New York, i went on match.com and began dating a Chinese-American woman named Deb Pun who lived across town in Hell's Kitchen. We dated for a year and a half until November 2004, when we made the momentous decision - all at once - that we would move to Hawai'i, live together, get married, build a house and have offspring.
We moved in May of 2005, settling into my family home in rural Ahualoa, the same house i had grown up in as a teenager. We were married on July 2 in the Waimea Nature Park. Since my consulting workload was location-independent, it proved no problem to continue coding and supporting the VTP. I got involved in local planning efforts and made websites for a handful of local nonprofits. We put plans into motion to develop our land agriculturally to support a second house - a coop with 50 chickens, clearing an acre of land for tea and coffee.
Five years later, the farm was doing great but I still had not finished the house and the marriage was coming apart. In October 2010, there was a move back to Berkeley to start working in high-tech again. In the summer of 2011 the divorce began, and in October 2011 I moved down to Mountain View for a year to start work on the Google driverless car. After Google and finishing the divorce, I spent some months at the Hacker Dojo before moving back up to SF.
Today, i live very simply in the Mission neighborhood of SF, and plan to keep returning to the Hawaii farm twice a year, to finish the house and keep the field of tea going, with the dream of someday finally returning to it to live sustainably and raise a low-carbon-footprint child.
(That's the story to date, April 2013)