Back in September, I asked people (by e-mail and social media) to fill out a quick survey describing how long we've known each other, where we met, and their first impressions of me in five words or fewer. It turned out to be the second best birthday present ever! (The best was, of course, The Double Secret Game.) Below are the results of this completely unscientific study.
I received 110 total responses, the first on September 4th (DeeAnn, testing the form) and the last on October 2nd, the day after my actual birthday. The majority of the responses--71 people, or just over 65%--came in during "opening weekend" (Thursday, September 5th, through Sunday, September 9th).
Not surprisingly, the biggest segment of responders was in the 2-5 year range (2008-2010). We moved to our current home area--Portland, Oregon--in late 2008, and about a year later started making a real effort to get out of the house and meet people. There's another big cluster of responses in the 1-2 year range (2011-2012), which includes several Sea Monkeys and more awesome Portlanders.
The second biggest segment was the 10-20 year range (1992-2002), which includes some college friends, my wife, and other people we know from living in the San Francisco Bay Area for over a decade. Many of those are Gamers, and all of them are fantastically creative and generous, because that's how we met them: through doing cool stuff for fun!
My favorite part, though, is the five-word first impressions. Here's the word cloud (minus seven people who opted out of this public analysis):
Of course, some of those individual words don't make much sense out of context. In no particular order, here are a few of my favorite five-word first impressions:
- "Tall guy likes Star Trek"
- "quiet, tall, and hungry"
- "Quiet, but lots in there."
- "Kind of mopey, I think."
- "inclusive trekkie asian ambitious nice"
- "Guy interviewing me" (from a former co-worker)
- "He looks like Mr. Spock."
- "He likes everything I like!"
- "Intriguing -not normal"
- "still waters run deep"
- "someone I'd like to meet"
- "Clever non-aardvark Bastard"
But honestly, it's the entire collection of responses that is most striking. You can see some of that in the word cloud--I am clearly known far and wide for my love of Star Trek, and also for being tall and quiet. I guess I knew a lot of this already, but it's nice to have actual data. You know, science and all that.
I also provided a form field labeled "Anything else you'd like to tell me?" in case five words wasn't enough. Some of those responses were pretty great, too:
- "Yes, but I had a stroke so I can't write it."
- "Don't make a fucking W with your fingers.
It's been great getting to know you over the years through games, social events, and those crimes we agreed never to discuss. Here's looking forward to another 9 years! Cheers!
- "Dude, if I could remember things that happened years ago, I wouldn't have got into the habit of writing stuff down. So, uhm, don't trust that memory of your first impression too far. Oh, wait, I write stuff down, so I don't have to remember: Here's the earliest mention of you on my site: http://lahosken.san-francisco.ca.us/anecdotal/hunt/5/05.html#happybirthday"
- "Funny, the 'how long have we known each other' question was surprisingly difficult to answer. I played in your Hogwarts Game in 2006, but don't really think that counts - I was looking for some kind of definitive 'social' connection. I decided to go with what I could mine from Gmail:
Date: Sat, 30 Aug 2008 00:23:59 -0700
To: Jeff Phillips
Subject: Curtis C. Chen confirmed you as a friend on Facebook...
- "I like you. I don't want to punch you in the face."
- "Your creativity inspires me!"
- "I think it's a very good reflection on my taste in friends that many of them are able to reinvent themselves, take chances, create new amazing things, and involve others in their projects. You can do all that (and more), and it is for that reason you're my friend."
- "Thanks for introducing me to Larry Niven!" (his books, not personally)
- "The first time we met, I totally profiled you.
Our section of the airport was nearly empty. We were both waiting for our connecting flight to Martha's Vineyard to attend Viable Paradise. I saw you working on a laptop that had a bunch of stickers on it. Laptop and stickers somehow screamed 'science fiction nerd' even though I couldn't see what the stickers were exactly. I consulted my own machine, saw that there were two distinctly Asian names on the VP student list. You looked more like a Chen than a Ha (though of course you could've easily been a Terhune, Johnson, or Kloos). I approached cautiously, half-expecting you to explode: 'What? So you see an Asian guy in an airport and just assume we all write science fiction??!' To my perhaps visible relief, you just smiled and shook my hand.
Happy 40th, Curtis!" (from a VPXII classmate)
- "You introduced me to the Hollywood Bowl. I've been following classical music ever since." (from a high school friend)
- "It was my third date with Wei-Hwa and I remember him inviting us along to dinner with you guys. It was a great time."
- "You know the line from the theme from the movie Shaft that goes 'who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks? Shaft!'
Well, if you were black, and a detective, and hugely promiscuous, and your name were Shaft instead of Curtis, I would think that song would apply perfectly to you.
And even though you are none of those things, I think the song applies to you anyway.
Happy birthday, Mr. Not an Aardvark!"
- "I heard 'I'm an Aardvark' on my kid's Sesame Street playlist just last week!"
- "Welcome to the old-timers club, sonny."
- "You have only two years to plan your next birthday project. 42. It is the number after all."
But all that said, I think this is my single favorite overall response (from my younger sister):
Thank you to everyone who participated, and thanks for reading all of this rambling analysis! Those interested can view all the public raw data and do the math yourself. Feel free to share your own conclusions in a comment below. :)