Simonyi on a Picnic

As most of you likely already know, Charles Simonyi is in space, and, as has been widely reported, Simonyi worked on Word.  What many of you likely don't know is that the first version of Word that Simonyi worked on was Mac Word 1.  Richard Brodie did the first version of Word for the PC.

I've only met Simonyi on a few occasions many years ago, but the impression was lasting. If I had to think of a single word to describe him, it would be “frenetic”. As someone once said, he never just walked anywhere. The pace was always something between “power walking and careening.”

Trying to conjure up some anecdotes about Simonyi, I asked one of the folks who worked with him. As I was told, Simonyi bought a Bell Jet Ranger before he learned how to fly it. He then started taking lessons. He’d invite people out on “picnics,” but would neglect to mention that the “picnic” was really a training flight. I’ll quote the story from here:

Shortly into the flight, the instructor said something cryptic (which I later realized was “auto-rotate”), then he reached over and turned off the engine. We fell out of the sky like a stone. I was screaming my head off in the back seat and they were doing not much of anything. After 10 seconds or so our rate of descent slowed down and then we sort of floated.

Once the exercise was over, they fired up the engine, and went on for the “picnic,” and it occurs to me that Simonyi probably thinks that’s what he’s doing now: just having another “picnic.”


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