I’m Old, Part XVI: The Tao of Carl

Carl Orthlieb and I worked on a number of projects in parallel. As I mentioned before, we both worked on PDF full-text search, the weblink plug-in, and so on. When I got stuck on something, I would sit in his office and we’d make each other’s lives a little more surreal. Or at the end of the day, sometimes Carl would play Warcraft (“STOP POKING ME!“) and I’d watch him wipe out some Orcs.


Around that time, for no other reason than personal growth, I had read an essay entitled “Is God a Taoist?” by Raymond Smullyan in the book “The Mind’s I“. Several years earlier, I had met Smullyan at Oberlin College where I was a student and he was a guest lecturer. I was already familiar with his work as my brothers and I went through some of his logic puzzle books when we were younger. After the lecture, Judith Underwood, a math and CS major and one of my classmates, came up with the following Smullyanesque logic problem:

Q. You are on an island of knights and knaves. Knights always tell the truth. Knaves always lie. You come to a crossroads and there is a person there, but you don’t know if it’s a knight or a knave. What single question can you ask to find the shortest route to town?

A. “Hey! Did you hear they’re giving out free beer in town?”

Then you follow him into town.

So after reading the essay, I put the source book from which Smullyan’s essay had been excerpted on order and in the intervening time, I decided to read a translation of the Tao Te Ching. I picked a translation at random from the public library and it turned out to be a decent one and it spoke to me (later I read a different translation that wasn’t nearly so good, and was grateful for the one I had first). I went on to read the Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet. One day, I was talking to Carl in his office about the Tao and as we did so, a new hire, David Fogel came up to the doorway and listened in. At a break, he asked a question about what Winnie the Pooh had to do with the Tao.

Carl, in true Carl form said, “Well, Pooh embodies the Tao. Pooh lives in the moment. It’s like the story when Pooh goes up to Christopher Robin and asks him for a balloon. Then Christopher Robin pulled out a shotgun, gut-shot Pooh, then tied his intestines to the back of a pickup truck and drove around the Hundred Acre Wood three times before finally pulling up at a bridge and throwing Pooh’s broken body into the river while the the rest of the residents chanted ‘Poohsticks! Poohsticks! Poohsticks!'”

David had a look of abject horror and while looking down at the gray carpet of the old Mountain View offices, he repeatedly shook his head saying, “No. No. No. That didn’t happen.”  before walking away.

It’s important to have Carls and Judiths in your life.

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