Okay, so you may recall that Susan and I made a lego portrait of Nancy, which I placed amongst the other lego portraits here at Google NYC. Here's Nancy next to another famous programmer and Google employee, Brian Kernighan:
The other portraits are other famous people, or the Google founders, etc. But there's this one guy I didn't recognize, shown on the right here:
I see various images of him everywhere here -- on t-shirts, posters, computer screens, etc. The haircut has a late-70's / early-80's look, so I figure this must be another computer luminary whose name I probably know, and who might work at Google.
I decided to pose myself the challenge of figuring out who it is without asking anyone. I would look at the list of upper management, which includes a bunch of famous computer scientists; I would examine every place I found his face, try to find a pattern. Check out old pictures of people at Xerox Parc back in the day. Look closely at the people I saw around me. And so on.
At one point, someone set up a computer in the Hall of Old Computers running the operating system called Plan 9 from Bell Labs. It used an old-yet-advanced email system that included a little picture of the person sending the email. And there, on the screen, was a bunch of little pictures of people who had sent email to this computer, people I recognized, and they mystery man as well! The little pictures had the usernames under them! The mystery man's picture was partially obscured, so I couldn't see his username. I clicked on the window to bring it to the front -- and it disappeared.
A couple of weeks ago, I finally figured it out. Strangely, I cannot for the life of me remember how I figured it out, but I suspect that I saw the picture along with the guy's username, pjw. A quick image search for 'pjw' brings up the picture, and from that I got the name: Peter Weinberger.
It turns out, he was a researcher at Bell Labs a while back, and then he was the "Director of Computer Sciences" or something like that. He was involved in early work in digital photography, and he left a head shot lying around and someone scanned it and started putting it everywhere as a joke. It also became a test image for showing off digital image processing.
Apparently, this is a long-standing geek meme. I thought I kept up on most of those, but this is one I missed entirely.
Anyway, mystery solved! So, does he work at Google? I look him up, and, sure enough, he does. I look at the picture on his internal page, and he looks vaguely -- wait -- oh my god.
This guy has been sitting behind me, in the next cubicle-pen, the entire time I've worked here. I even had a conversation with him and some others a while back.
It's a small world here.