So there is this meme going around the blogsphere, the "Five things you don't know about me" question. I have no idea who started it, and some bloggers hate it, while it's very popular among others, techies and non-techies alike. Someone started it by writing a post on the "five things", and then "tagged" a couple of other people inviting them to do the same, and from there it spread like in a pyramid scheme, just a benign one, and now it's everywhere. Yes, it may be a bit narcissistic, and certainly uninteresting to a large extent, but Ethan tagged me, and while looking up what others had written I found a friend I had lost track of a long time ago, and interesting details on others. So, at risk of expanding my navel-gazing credentials, here are five things you don't know about me:
- I once took part in a diplomatic mission to rescue three Swiss tourists that had been kidnapped by the Kurdish guerrilla in eastern Turkey. It played out like in a spy game, because the Turkish government was not eager for an official Swiss delegation to meet with representatives of a people they don't recognize. After several steps we got to a hotel in a city near the Armenian border, where we were told to wait for a contact. Within hours the whole personnel had changed - replaced by police, who were listening phone calls and tracking our movements. But at the end we did get the hostages back.
- I speak a couple of languages, but also, fluently, two pretty obscure dialects: one from the Southern part of the Swiss Alps, and the other from the province of Bergamo (an Italian city one hour east of Milan) which descends from Latin and Celtic and is considered one of the least-understandable languages in Europe, because of its very closed phonetics. Both languages are only spoken, no grammar has ever been codified.
- Two months ago I went to swim in the Red Sea and snorkeled among fabulous fishes and even saw a sea turtle. For many is a normal happening, but for me, at 42, it was a first, because until recently I could not swim: I had a bad pool accident around age 7 and have been fighting water panic ever since. Until three years ago when a great swimming teacher at Stanford University took me step by step first into the water, then to the deep end, then to the jumping board. I will never thank Elizabeth enough.
- I used to be the head of online strategy at the World Economic Forum, the organization that puts up the Davos annual gathering. One of the projects I was running in the late 1990s - and this may be the first time it is mentioned publicly - was an attempt to create a basic "code of conduct" for e-commerce that big Internet companies would adopt voluntarily, self-regulating a field that, then, felt like the wild west. The code was something like: "We will alert consumers about all their personal information we collect; disclose how all information we collect will be used; provide consumers with a choice on what personal information to release and to whom; give them access to all personal info collected about them and provide mechanisms to correct it; and protect the data's security and integrity". I'm not sure this is the final wording, but it is pretty close, and it was the result of a global consultation (including big tech companies, schools such as MIT, the WWW Consortium and others) and many drafts. At the end, we presented it during a closed-door meeting in Davos. After hearing the explanation by the late Michael Dertouzos and by myself, and checking the text, Bill Gates took out his pen, signed it for Microsoft, committing the company to implement it, and passed the paper to us. I thought everyone would follow, but then those that were riding the dotcom wave stood up - Michael Dell, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon, if I remember correctly - saying that they could not agree in particular to the point about "giving access to the information collected and provide mechanisms to correct it", that it would be too hard to implement, and the ensuing discussion ended up killing the proposal. I wanted to keep Gates' signature as a memento of a good but failed attempt, but someone from MS accompanying him reclaimed the paper back.
- I was among the first European journalists to interview Arnold Schwarzenegger after he got elected Governor of California. Small talk in German, interview in English. You can think what you want of the guy, but he's really smart - and he has no qualms about his past. In a corner of his office, there is a wooden box with a velvet interior, and in it there is the sword he used in "Conan the Barbarian". Which I guess is his way to tell you: I was Conan, and now I'm the Governor, and if you see a problem there, it's your problem.
OK, enough on me. Now let's see whether Laurent, Francis, Mariapia and Wayne feel like picking up the meme (or maybe punching me for tagging them). PS: Ethan, no trackback came my way. But you would do a pretty good president.
UPDATE 27 Jan 07 - So Wayne picked up the invitation. Guess I will have to plan a visit to his small working asparagus and beef cattle farm in Central Kentucky.