A Bit of History

Though some of the folks associated with this project in the past may not know me, I have been a small part of it since it was first imagined. Marc deGroot and I had a long history.

The idea for VR and Metatopia was originally devised in a Berkeley attic by Marc and me. Since Marc’s untimely death, the project has lied dormant. After I found out about Marcs death, and the existence of Metatopia I decided that it was high time I took an interest in what was originally my brain child. Yes, my brainchild. I did authorize Marc to pursue the concept with my complete blessing. Now, Grandpa is back in charge. It is in loving memory of a man I knew since I was barely a teenager, a man who first launched my career in computing, a man who was a friend, that I rededicate this project to Marc deGroot.

Marc’s family has created a web site dedicated to his memory, and seeks to help those suffering with Bipolar and Manic Depressive disorders. I am no stranger to this debilitating disorder and urge you to donate to this fund.

The beginning...

Marc was a skinny, funny looking teenager. His brother David and I went to school together that year at the Ecole Active Bilangue. It was 1974. I was a shy little boy from Ohio, far from the fields I knew. I found myself thrust into a very new environment, Paris. I was a mere 12 years old. It was difficult being in a foreign land, learning a new language, experiencing every day at a disadvantage. In this kind of environment, people invariably seek out others like themselves. I saw it many times over. The strangest people taking comfort in each other’s company, it never ceased to amaze me what odd bed fellows it created. Marc, David and I were no different in that respect.

Marc and David were the sons of a big IBM economist, and I was the son of a high level executive at Federal Mogul/National Oil Seal. The school we attended was one that accommodated the sons and daughters of industrialists, ambassadors, and statesmen. There are a good many people I remember from those days who have gone on to do amazing things. Marc was no exception there. We were only at Ecole Active Bilangue together for 1 year, which was not to be the end, but the beginning. Marc went off to the American High School in Paris, and David went off to the French public school system.

As boys, Marc and I were not that close. I guess I might have been viewed as his little brothers long haired geeky friend that like to blow things up. At the time I was into homemade explosives and fireworks. Marc was into his ham radio, playing guitar, and other typical teen things. Marc was the only guy I knew that was into computers at the time. I remember hanging out with Marc on one occasion in the computer lab at the American High School in Paris which was actually located in the French suburb of St Cloud.

I don't know what happened to it, but that day Marc gave me a paper tape roll with something on it from that evening. He told me that one day it would mean something to me. I'll never know, but I can assume it was some little phrase, something personal.

After a few years at Ecole Active Bilangue I was again given the opportunity to go to school with David at Ecole Active de St Cloud. This was just down the street from the American High School. David and I would cross paths with Marc many times during the school week as we all took the same commuter train back to Paris daily. That and I practically lived at David and Marc’s house.

I remember one time I was going down the escalator leaving the train station on the way to school. From behind I barely took note of someone stomping down the escalator behind me. What jarred me from my morning daydreams was someone grabbing my butt. As I look to see who had violated my personal space I saw a curly head of hair go whizzing past me. As I watched, I saw Marc turn his head while still making his getaway. I'll never forget that cheese eating grin of his fade to shock and horror as he realized he had goosed his little brothers best friends ass. I tortured Marc with that one for many years after that.

A couple of years later, Marc and David moved back to California, Berkeley to be more precise. I stayed in Paris until 1979 writing to David back in the States off and on. Well before that David had become my best friend and constant companion. So when they moved, it was very painful and lonely. A year or so later, after a stint in a boarding school in the south of France, College Cevenol as I recall, I too moved back to the States.

For me the journey was not yet done and reunification would have to wait. I completed High School in Paris, and then came back to Michigan where I got my US High School diploma after 6 months. My family moved to the LA area, Riverside. It was not much of a town then. It was relatively quiet. After a year there I reconnected with Marc and David in Berkeley.

During the next year or so I had gone to visit Marc and David in Berkeley. David was still living at his folk’s house. Just short of 18, my folks asked me to leave. Later I was to find out that they hadn't actually expected me to go. It was a poorly played out scare tactic. This was mainly because I had dropped out of college and was working at a 7-11.

I believe it was the winter of 1980 or 1981 when I left and moved up to Berkeley to live with Marc and David. They had a small house on Shattuck I believe. The household consisted of 7 adults in a 3 bedroom house. It was more than a bit crowded. David was gracious enough to give me a job at a local cookie store. My space consisted of a tiny shelf, and a bed roll tucked under the dining table. Yes, under the dining table. I eventually graduated from that to the furnace room, but that's another story for another time.

The lot of us packed it in a year or so later and moved into a house in Oakland. We were a strange lot. By then I was beginning to get some hands on with a computer. One of our friends Michael was an engineer working on real-time video processing, and our dining room was filled to the gills with computer equipment. Marc had his collection of stuff as did another of our roommates at the time. Marc had turned me on to his Apple IIc which I found fascinating. Marc was working in Forth at the time, on top of his actual job. He was a serious workaholic. Marc would sit at his computer endlessly, drinking brandy usually.

As he killed off a bottle of brandy he would place it on the high molding near the ceiling that ran the perimeter of the room. I recall telling him one day that if he managed to fill the molding with brandy bottles before Christmas, that he should consider himself an alcoholic. As I had said before, Marc had gotten me into his Apple IIc. I found a great game at one point, Ultima, I played it to death. One day the program would no longer run. Something had happened. At the time I knew nearly nothing about computers. I went to Marc with my problem, and his response would completely change my future.

His reply was to hand me a book and tell me to go fix it myself. That's how it all started for me. Marc took me under his wing after that, perhaps he could see something no one else could at the time. He introduced me to Forth, which he absolutely adored. Chuck Moore was as a god to him. He taught me to program assembler. I'll never forget "System 0". It consisted of 2 rows of baton switches, LEDs, and a couple of push buttons attached to a small processor and 1 memory chip. Marc made me enter a roulette game as part of my training. He made me enter that thing over and over until I got it right. I really hated it, but I learned some very valuable things.

Soon after, I was to get my own place. Tensions had risen and there was some bad blood developing between me and the deGroot brothers. I had fixed that program and had changed jobs. One of the roommates had helped me get my first job in the industry. In fact Marc and I would work together very briefly at a small start-up in the Bay Area. After a while longer I wound up moving to Hayward. When it came time for me to move, I remember telling David that my time with "The Great Cosmic Muffin" had come to an end, and that it was time for me to move on as I had outgrown the "Family". At the time the click we belonged to called themselves the “Muffin Family”.

For a couple of years after that, I pursued my own education and career. I had not seen nor heard from any of the old family. I longed to reconnect and see how they were all doing. So one fateful day I called David. He invited me to come to the Muffin Family house in Berkeley. At the time I had been frequenting bars and was into the style of the day. Needless to say it wasn't Tie-Die and Birkenstocks. But that didn't matter, I went to Berkeley anyway. At the time I had been playing around with the idea of creating a new interface for my computer so I could play Ultima and eventually D&D in an immersive environment. The concept was to use a pair of surplus military monocles to create a stereo display system.

That night as the party roared below us, Marc, David and a few others sat around a glass table, partying and talking. We discussed how our careers were going, traded war stories, and in general reconnected. I recall Marc telling me that he remembered what I had said about the brandy bottles and being an alcoholic. He told me that at the time he hated me for that comment, but that now he was willing to say I was right. It was during that evening that Marc and I discussed that idea, what would become known as Virtual Reality. I told him that he had my blessing to pursue the idea, to consider it a gift. The rest is history where Marc is concerned.

That night was to be the last time I ever saw Marc deGroot alive. I went back to my life, and they to theirs. It wasn't until many years later that I came across an article about Marc. I recall trying to contact his parents. I wanted to congratulate him for the work he had been doing. His parents never responded to my attempted contact. I hind sight, that may have been the year that Marc died. Once again I put it out of my mind and went back to my life. Some years later, I would discover that Marc had died. I was shaken to my core.

There comes a time in every man’s life when he becomes aware of the passage of time. Time marked by the deaths of childhood friends. It kind of hits you in the face.

I spent the next couple of months seeking out old friends on the internet. I found, but never contacted most of them. One fateful day as I searched, I stumbled across Metatopia. There it was, the idea we had discussed so long ago. Granted it had evolved and Marc had put his own humanitarian twist on it. Now, posthumously, Marc was recognized as the father of VR. Here was this project that Marc had left behind. It looked as if no one had worked on it since his death. It beckoned to me as though it was some sort of bread crumb left behind for me to find.

I had by now been working for Chuck Moore on his latest endeavor. Something I would have loved for Marc to live to see. He would have been proud I think. It was to be a project I would have never been involved with had it not been for Marc exposing me to the Forth language all those years ago. I counted amongst my mentors John Ribel of Fig Forth fame, and had occasion to work with another legend Jeff Fox of Ultra Technology fame. These guys showed me tricks I would have never thought of in a million years. It really opened my eyes. After working with these guys for a couple of years I began to come into my own with this new flavor of Forth. I found myself as excited as Marc about this unusual language.

When I discovered Metatopia, I attempted to contact everyone associated with the project for over a month. I searched and scoured and came up empty handed. Initially all I wanted was to get involved. When I found there was no one at the wheel, I decided to see if I could gain access by other means. I worked with one Andy Carman at Intellasys, when I told him what I was looking at he told me he knew someone at SourceForge that might be able to help. After discussing my issue with him, it didn't take long to learn about taking over a SourceForge project. It would only take 90 days from the time I put in the request, if none of the admins replied, the project would be opened up to me and I'd become it's administrator. On Spetember 28 2009 I filed a request for project takeover with SourceForge. On December 28th 2009 I officially became it's administrator.

When I looked into the internals of Metatopia, I realized that MEME was in fact Forth. Different from Chucks, but a Forth all the same. It immediately seemed to me this was some sort of cosmic confluence. Chucks new version of Forth, his new chips and my recent experiences coupled with the fact that I had never stopped working on VR in my own ways. The fact that VR has stagnated. Sure it has seen some major developments, but it is in no way as ubiquitous as it should be by now. All this has spelled out to me, in glaring bold letters, that it is time to resume work.

So why all the effort to tell this story? Simple, I don't want anyone thinking I am here to steal Marcs thunder. Quite the contrary. I am here to say, simply, that as it was my idea in the first place, it falls, quite logically, to me, to take up the mantle. It is out of great respect for the work Marc produced over some 20,000 hours. Out of respect for a strange little man that changed my life. It would be a shame, after all, for all his work and dedication to go to waste. Please join me as I attempt revive the VR concept, and once again try to put this technology where it belongs. Into the hands of the people. If I have peaked your interest, please go to the Vision page, and then browse the project to see if there is anything you'd like to contribute.