Ph.D. Mathematics, UCLA
Professor of Computer Science, Stanford U.
Q: As a Stanford computer science professor with a Ph.D. in math, what makes you interested in the health and fitness community? A: Well, I was quite interested in a lot of sports as a kid, especially baseball. But as I got into my teens I became fascinated with people's abilities to run
long distances, run with pain, and otherwise train hard with nothing pushing them but their own mind. This made me mostly focus on both running and wrestling.
In particular, I enjoyed the intense training wrestlers undergo with so little
food. Dan Gable was a hero of mine.
This got me hooked on the whole "mind over matter" and "power of the mind" concepts.
Q: Is this focus on personal fitness what led you to move to Los Angeles and train at the world famous Gold's Gym in Venice Beach? A: No, actually. My strong interest in mind/body interactions led me to focus on discovering more about the human body and how it worked.
So as an undergraduate I studied Chemistry, Physics, Biology, etc. in order to satisfy this curiosity, all with an intent of going to medical school.
However, along the way, I started to notice the pervasiveness of mathematics throughout all science and was attracted to that area.
This led me to skip medical school and instead go to UCLA for graduate school to study mathematics and applied mathematics.
Last year they were ranked #2 I believe in Applied Mathematics, but they always had a very large program and it seemed like a wonderful place to live when I visited.
In fact, Los Angeles is unique in many ways as the home to Hollywood, Muscle Beach, and generally a lot of people who want to both look and feel good - and thus are
focused on their mental and physical well being.
Q: How long did you live in Los Angeles? A: About 9 years give or take. After getting my Ph.D., I stuck around and did a bunch of post-graduate research and teaching with UCLA, and a bit with Caltech.
And I spent a lot of time training, especially at Gold's Gym in Venice.
Q: Tell us what training at Gold's Gym was like. A: Well the training was a lot of fun, and the people were quite interesting to talk to before and after training.
There's a whole social aspect to most gyms, but when you have movie stars, professional bodybuilders, artists, mathematicians, etc. all in one spot, well that's
pretty diverse and intellectually stimulating. For example one of my training
partners, Mike O'Hearn, would often appear on
the covers of magazines and was an American Gladiator - he's still very into it all! I was in a few magazines here and there myself, but I did it mostly for fun.
This was a time in my life where I started to understand the value of a personal trainer, as Gold's Gym was full of them and many of them were very good.
It's surprising how good trainers can really put their clients into the zone, and it made me understand a bit about how some of the top Hollywood stars get in such
fantastic shape for many roles. In particular I recall many a Friday talking to
Gabriella Reece and
her trainer over by the dead lift racks, and many
conversations with the guy who
trained James Caan - in
fact I even got to talk to Mr. Caan once in a while. Then there was Tony Danza, wow he was intense -
and didn't need a trainer for it. Quite often we'd chat a bit when we were alternating back and forth on the leg extension machine, because of the way our workouts
lined up. He used a bit less weight but was super intense. He was a great example of someone with a strong mind really pushing themselves, in fact he trained way
harder than he ever needed to and you could tell it was just because he was enjoying it! It was back in these days training at Gold's Gym that I first started thinking
that it would be great if there was a way to help everyone get "in the zone" - and in fact the technology to do it is just starting to come upon us (thus starting Pivot now
instead of then).
Ron squatting 775 pounds
Q. So why did you leave Los Angeles? A: Well, you've heard of the saying mind, body and soul. The interesting thing about Los Angeles is the "soul", meaning the art, music, creativity, etc. right brain stuff.
I spent quite a bit of my life in the left hand side of my brain, and using my brain to push my body, but in Los Angeles I started to become more interested in the left brain stuff.
This led me to get involved with some of the movie making people, and I discovered that some of my technology expertise could be useful for special effects in feature films.
So I did a little bit of that in Los Angeles, and eventually it led to me moving to Silicon Valley to take a professor job in Stanford's computer science department.
This was also a few months after my first child being born, so the move made sense from that respect. By the way, she's 11 now and is a pretty good gymnast winning the
state championship in her age division both of her first two years of competing. Of course, this makes sense since her mom went to college on a cheerleading scholarship and
was cheering for the Kansas City Chiefs football team when I met her.
Q: Tell us a bit about the special effects work. A: Well, a lot of my work is very technical including research for the Department of Defense (Navy, Army, Air Force, etc.). So I feel like it gives me some balance
to work on research that can be used to simulate things in movies, such as water, smoke, fire, hair, cloth, creatures, robots, etc. I've written roughly 100 published papers
and graduated about 20 Ph.D. students at Stanford, and the papers and students
are roughly split between the the two fields. There's also a math book I wrote
that talks about technology useful in both areas. The whole mix of left and
right brain is quite fun, and it exposes me to a wonderful mix of people. I
received both an
award from George Bush at the White House, as well as one at a graphics
conference where the next speaker was George Lucas - we even directed some comments back and forth to
each other when we were each on stage. I've worked with George's company Industrial Light + Magic for over a decade on effects for feature films, getting a handful of
screen credits and an Academy Award from The
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - Jessica Alba presented this award,
and I got to speak to her very briefly after the ceremony (that was fun!). One thing I like about the special effects work is that films make people feel good
via the left brain, it has social value.
Q. Is there anything you'd like to add? A: Just that I'm really excited by Pivot, and this technology direction in general. On one hand, it might start out slowly as many new technologies do.
But on the other hand, there's real potential to truly affect people's lives in
a positive way. Seeing all the fat people on the spaceship in the "Wall-E"
movie by Pixar made me sad. All this technology would be for naught, if it lessened us as humans in the way that film depicted. I sure hope that doesn't