January 9, 2001

Mr. Wook's tireless love of work and life

Author: JT Smith

- By Julie Bresnick -

Open Source people
Currently vice president of engineering at Metapa, an infrastructure service
provider
with an office in Los Angeles, Wook, as he is known to everybody save
his
mother and three sisters, has deployed a number of Open Source
programs, not
least among them, Linux, MySQL and gcc.
Previously, as director of
(digital)
engineering for effects house Digital
Domain
, he helped bring Linux to prominence by choosing it as a
tool in
manufacturing the spectacular effects in such big-screen blockbusters
as
James Cameron's epic, Titanic.

I spent almost two hours face to face with the programming maven
himself
and failed to broach the topic of Open Source even once. Strippers,
motorcycles, hot tubs, older women, a cop, some private investigating,
26 years of work, half as many companies, I think I remember
him
mentioning a mafia affiliate, and I know I heard the phrase "ran away
to
join a band" -- at 41, Wook's got a lot to tell. He's got a lot to
tell
about who he is and how he got there. Sophisticated and self-aware, he
appreciates his ups just as much as his downs. He's the kind of guy who
finds
emotions life affirming and connects with people consciously, who can
get
teary-eyed out of affection, who works tirelessly and loves endlessly
be it
platonic, brotherly, romantically.

After lunch we made our way back to his office. He had
just
finished telling me how his two older sisters had orchestrated his
first
relationship when he was in fourth grade and how awkward it was to
re-encounter the same girl later on in high school. Suddenly there ame a
holler from the opposite side of the four-lane street. We paused as
Wook
waved, his smile broad. It was evident, even before the gray-haired
man
darted across the street and literally jumped into Wook's arms, that
they
were happy to see each other. Wook was more relaxed though clearly
involved
as he inquired about specifics in his friend's life. They shook hands
several times, strong two-handed shakes, and hugged hello and goodbye.
Certainly some of the heft could be attributed to the fact that this
friend
had been Wook's trainer at the gym but the genuine nature of the
interaction
was demonstrative of the values Wook had professed in the hours
preceding
that encounter.

Wook laid his stories on the table nonchalantly. Sure, it was clear
that
somewhere underneath the extra pounds and all that hair (his college
buddies
didn't name him after a Wookie because of his technical prowess) exists
that
same asthmatic weakling who wore a path, with his endless pacing, in
the
woods behind the house he grew up in, but there's more to his increased
layers than Italian food and a love of steak. He has grown and changed
but
instead of discarding previous forms of himself he simply layers them.

This is Wook's best story.

Wook's father, a sophisticated engineer himself, started teaching
him
LOGIC at home on paper when Wook was about 8. By the time he was
15 or so, the young apprentice was qualified for a job in his
father's
office at Reuters, so his father made it happen. Too young to impose
limits
on himself, Wook supplemented high school with countless hours of
engineering, enjoying weekends there when he could surround himself
(there
was no windows operating system then) with several terminals. Often he
would join the rest of the geeks, many of them his father's peers, for
lunch. They would pile in the car and then decide on a destination.
McDonald's, Roy Rogers, or, as on this particular day, the local strip
joint. Whether because it was the '70s, or maybe his co-workers
were
regulars, getting the teenager in was not an issue. Attendance became
routine, and years later, when his excessive work habits began to cause
headaches, he found a room full of scantly clad women was the only
place he
could achieve sufficient distraction. He became a regular, sometimes
bringing a notebook to tend to tasks less demanding. He grew
comfortable
with the staff, they with him. One day, it came out in conversation
that one
of the women was looking for her mother who she'd been separated from
as a
toddler. Burdened by the emotions involved and by a lack of resources
her
own efforts had not yield results. Wook was compelled by the
challenge.
Six weeks, a private investigating class and countless phone calls to
the
bureaucracy later, he went to her house with the news. He'd located
her
mother and several of her siblings. He talked her down from anger and
encouraged her to call in advance which she did. Apparently, they had
been
looking for her. This all happened a few days before Christmas.

Elaborate courtship? Only in the same way that Wook seems to court
many
of the people he finds interesting. "And now we're friends," was a
common
closer for many of his stories. His heart pumps blood through more
than
just his veins. It's a muscle he exercises in almost all facets of his
life.

He is a romantic. His most favorite job has been at Digital Domain
because the people there were so passionate and pure of heart. And it
is
those same qualities that lead him to profess a particular fondness for
the
start-up phase of businesses, which is probably why he's worked at so
many.

His resume may be a testament to his dedication to a career but he
does
not hesitate to confess that he has yet to commence the one project he
feels
he was truly meant to undertake. Though he does refer to his last long-term
girlfriend's children as his, she is 21 years his senior and
the
children are his peers so it does not quite fulfill his intense desire
to raise children. He says that whether through nurture or nature, he
shares
his father's love of women and affection for being in love.

In 41 years he has conquered a lot, both personally and
professionally. His high school years he spent trying to figure
himself out
and the later years trying to figure out others. Perhaps all along he
has
been mastering these forces, both within and out, to take with him into
the
last, the great, the final frontier - parenthood.

Ideal Sunday morning:
Sleep, sex, and food in a slow, continuous rotation.

Favorite band:
Moby (at the moment), Joni Mitchell, Lauryn Hill

Favorite video game:
Quake, UnReal

Favorite filmmakers:

Cameron, Stone, Kurosawa, Scorsese

Favorite TV show:
Twin Peaks, Buffy

Favorite art:
"I'm sort of a sucker for Chagall, but Van Gogh never ceases to
amaze me ... between the special effects and the deep emotional
impact, he has repeatedly taken my breath away ..." Favorite sculptor: Rodin

First big hack:

"An asynch File Transfer system, which ran on serial lines. It was
1976,
and I designed a packetized, windowed protocol which I then implemented
on the OS/8, RT/11, The 8080 and 6800 operating systems (whose names
I can't recall)."

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