From zero gravitation to Ride& Tie: the quirky pastimes of the tech upper-clas

For Silicon Valleys successful tech entrepreneurs the world is a playground of creative ways to unwind, and even boost productivity

Long hours, high stress and overwhelming pressure to succeed: the run culture of Silicon Valley is notoriously unforgiving, so its not surprising that tech entrepreneurs find creative ways to blow off steam in their spare time.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin, for example, expends time learning flying trapeze, while former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is an avid beekeeper. From DIY rocketry and zero-gravity flight through to sonic meditation, many tech execs require more than yoga to claim their me time, and say it helps them feel more fulfilled, relaxed and productive at work. But its also a reveal insight into what constructs them tick. Here, in their own terms, eight entrepreneurs explain their favorite extracurricular activity.

Its a joyous, zen-like, free, peaceful experience

Name : Peter Diamandis Day job : Engineer, physician and entrepreneur who founded the X Prize Foundation and co-founded Singularity University

Hobby : Zero-gravity flight

Peter
Peter Diamandis started his quest for zero gravitation in the mid-1 990 s in a shipment airplane wearing a parachute in case there was an accident during takeoff and landing. Photo: Zero Gravity Corporation
In his own words : Space has always been a hobby and passion, particularly how to make it something that individuals can experience.

In the mid-1 990 s I chose I wanted to fly in zero gravity in a large aeroplane. I was trying to track down a 727 to buy, but before that I flew to Russia where, at the time, $10,000 would get you any experience you desired. I took a ride on the Ilyushin 76, a large shipments airplane with no seats and a padded floor. During takeoff and landing you had to wear a parachute so you could skydive out the back door if anything went wrong.

When I came back I get hold of a 727 and did some zero-gravity test flights( following a parabolic track) with Space Shuttle astronaut Byron Lichtenberg. It was just me in the back of this long aeroplane floating from one end to the other. After 11 years( 1993 -2 004) we got FAA approval to do it commercially through Zero Gravity Corporation so that others could experience it too. If it wasnt for my passion it would never have been a business.

I do a couple of flights a year now and Im becoming really good at popping water balloons in the air and then are seeking to drink the water out of the drifting globules with a straw.

The most dramatic experience was taking Stephen Hawking up in 2007. It was such a risk it and everyone said: Dont do it, youll kill him. It took me six months to persuade the FAA to let me do it.

If I couldnt fly in zero gravity any more Id feel cheated. Its a joyous, zen-like, free, peaceful experience.

Alice is emblematic of the imaginative alternative realities

Name : Ray Kurzweil Day chore : Currently a director of engineering at Google, heading up a team working on machine intelligence

Hobby : Collecting Alice in Wonderland memorabilia

Ray
Ray Kurzweil discovered a painting of Alice Liddell, the inspiration behind Alice in Wonderland, in a carnival in San Francisco. Photo: Terry Guyer

In his own words: The first piece I collected is attributable to Alice was a facsimile of a 90 -page handwritten manuscript of Alices Adventures Under Ground, written by Charles Dodgson, otherwise known as Lewis Carroll.

The manuscript was written for and inspired by Alice Liddell. Subsequently he expanded this to Alices Adventures in Wonderland and it became a worldwide success. Decades afterward Miss Liddell required money and sold the original manuscript.

I have since collected various original editions and annotated editions of the book and some paintings. Alice is emblematic of the imaginative alternative realities we will create with emerging technologies.

Once I was walking in a San Francisco city fair and recognised Alice Liddell in a painting by artist Terry Guyer. I was familiar with the photograph of Alice by Charles Dodgson that Guyer had based his painting on so I bought the painting. I also have a painting of the White Rabbit by Grace Slick and a hologram of the Cheshire Cat, who disappears when you move leaving merely his smile.

My voice studio is like Willy Wonkas chocolate factory

Name : Ivy Ross Day job : Head of Google Glass at Google X since May 2014

Hobby: Analyzing voice and vibration

In her own terms : We all use nomenclature like were on the same wavelength but theres real science behind it.

For 30 years I would take a lot of the money I was earning in the corporate world and spend my vacations with people analyzing the sounds monks would use as a sonic massage or visiting a human in France bombarding cancer cells with sound.

This led me to instal a studio with all kinds of voice toys in my second home in Santa Fe, which is like Willy Wonkas Chocolate Factory. For example, theres a pyramid you sit inside with sound tubings all around and I have a mallet that I can use to play different frequencies of voice while you are sitting inside.

Ivy
Ivy Ross says that voiced vibrations, which can be experienced inside a audio pyramid, help the body heal itself. Photograph: Ivy Ross

Being in a audio pyramid is an incredibly relaxing experience. The first time I was in one I said: Oh my God, I understand. So I took part of my bonus that year and commissioned one.

The theory is that your body takes in the vibration that it needs to mend itself. You get a sense of wellbeing, calmness the same benefits you get from meditation. Your intellect automatically relaxes.

My sound room is now the more popular thing when I invite friends to bide. Until they experience it I dont say a word its very optional. But those coming back for a second visit want to make sure that the package deal includes some time with the sound toys!

I dont care what people think about my pastime. Life is one big experiment and Im not going to miss out on exploring those things that engage me and get my attention.

I think of myself as a guardian for these machines , not the owner

Name : Bob Lord Day job : Chief information security officer at Yahoo. He previously headed up info security at Twitter Hobby : Collecting cryptography machines

In his own words : In the late 1990 s I was at Netscape managing a team working on core cryptography libraries. For some reason I started looking around eBay and detected an M-2 09 cipher machine on auction. It was made for employ by Americans in the furrows during WWII.

Bob
Bob Lord owns around 10 encryption machines, as well as wartime manuals and posters, but says he will eventually hand them over to a museum. Photo: Bob Lord

I decided to bid on it and I won. Thats when I got the glitch and started to see what else might be available. This led to more eBay buys and me joining an informal Yahoo Group of crypto collectors with the same glitch.

I have nine or 10 running divisions, but I also collect a lot of handbooks and wartime posters genuinely anything around the security of communications. Being in contact with the history of safety and cryptography and privacy is something that resonates on both a personal and professional level.

The one people are always most excited about is my German Enigma machine; there are very few remaining divisions left and it has tremendous historical significance. However, I think my favorite is the Russian Fialka, employed until the early 1990 s. It looks like an IBM electric typewriter and it doesnt suffer from one of the flaws of the Enigma, which is that no letter can encrypt or decrypt to itself.

I think of myself as a custodian for these machines not the owner eventually I might retire them to a museum or university. Its been a complete elation to hold these things, share my enthusiasm with other people and get them thinking about the history of cryptography.

Probably the most fun Ive had with my clothes on

Name : Godfrey Sullivan

Day undertaking: Chairman and former CEO of enterprise software company Splunk

Hobby: Ride& Tie

Godfrey
Godfrey Sullivan: Ride& Tie is the most fun Ive had with my clothes on. Photograph: Godfrey Sullivan

In his own terms: I was introduced to Ride& Tie in the mid 1980 s. Its a tough mountain race involving two people and one horse, where one person can touch the pony at any one time.

When the race starts, person or persons will ride ahead into the mountains for a mile or two before discovering a place to tie the horse up and starting to run. The second person follows on foot and receives the pony, unties it and rides it for a few miles. You leapfrog like this with the horse for 30 -4 0 miles up and down mounds, with each person running half and riding half.

The first race was likely the most fun Ive had with my clothes on. Its pure chaos, with 50 -7 5 horses and the same number of runners. You have a shotgun start and then everyone crashes across a grassland towards the trail. Most of the horses are Arabians fit, strong and high-spirited. The pace of it is unlike anything Ive ever seen.

I to benefit from do about two a year, but Ive started to do more endurance racing where its person or persons and a pony and you have to cover 100 miles in 24 hours. Its all about teamwork; you need to learn when the pony should do the work and when you can do the work. The rider usually runs the very steep grades to avoid overheating the horse. Its another insane sport and I do a few of those every year; the ponies are always fit and ready to go.

When Im flying Im living

Name : Jessica Mah Day job : CEO of accounting software startup InDinero

Hobby : Flying a single-engine plane

Jessica
Jessica Mah says she doesnt like flying commercially, and what started out of curiosity ended up earning her a private pilots licence. Photo: Jessica Mah

When I was a kid I was preoccupied with Microsoft Flight Simulator. Then two years ago I was at a dinner party at my investor Andrew Warners house and we were talking about how cool it would be to be able to fly. So I bought a Groupon voucher for $150 to take a flying lesson.

I went in not expecting much, merely a cool life experience I could tick off the listing. But I started thinking that it could be an opportunity for me; I genuinely dont like flying commercially. So I set my intellect to it for five months and got my private licence.

I probably fly at least three weekends a month; its the only thing that really takes my intellect off run. Everyone thinks thats because when you are focused on flying you are focused on not succumbing, but when Im flying Im living.

Flying has been great for networking. Ive been able to take CEOs to LA for lunch or Tahoe for breakfast no one turns that kind of invitation down. My friends love it as well. I have a long listing of people who want to go on journeys to Vegas with me.

Im the David Hasselhoff of fiction writing

Name: Rip Gerber

Day task: Chief marketing officer at Vlocity

Hobby : Writing bestselling techno-thrillers In his own words : I was on vacation one day and ensure Jurassic Park 3. It was a terrible movie and I remember walking out and thinking: I could write that.

The first 10 pages were really easy, but by page 11 nothing. It was hard. I got myself all lathered up and I ended up writing and rewriting this volume, Pharma, for over a year as a pastime. I would write at nights and weekends and on business trips. Instead of checking into a hotel and going down to the bar Id stay in my room and bang out pages.

Rip
Rip Gerber writes fiction, but after losing everything in a house flame in 2007 he also writes letters of gratitude to people who helped their own families. Photograph: Rip Gerber

Pharma is a techno-thriller about a pharmaceutical company manipulating the genetics of plants that subsequently grow out of control. Believe of it like Jurassic Park but with plants. I was rejected by more than 100 agents, but number 113 took me on. Then I was rejected by a bunch of publishing homes until Random House bought the book and published it in Germany where it became a bestseller. Im like the David Hasselhoff of fiction writing! They also bought my second volume, Killer Virus, which had the same protagonist.

Fiction writing is a very entrepreneurial endeavor the performance is all on you and you live and succumb by what you are able to produce. For me thats what appeals. Its a bit like what we do in the Valley; its very denuding and the rejection is not for the faint of heart.

I still write, and have five other books which have yet to be sold, but these days Im doing more one-to-one writing through personal letters of gratitude. I started doing this in 2007 where we had a home fire in San Francisco and lost everything. So every year I would send out five letters of gratitude to people who had had an impact on me and my family. Now I like doing them all the time.

Theres a visceral excitement with rocketry

Name : Steve Jurvetson Day chore : The J of venture capital firm DFJ, and is a board member of companies including SpaceX and Tesla Motors

Hobby : Building rockets

Steve
Steve Jurvetson started constructing experimental rockets when his son was three. Hes now 16, and together they build rockets that can exceed the speed of sound. Photograph: Steve Jurvetson
In his own words : When my son turned three years old, we were walking through a hobby store and I saw this rocket kit with two ready-to-fly prebuilt rockets. I recollected the pyrotechnic joy of using one as a kid and so I bought it to fly in the neighborhood with the kids.

We then discovered a local rocketry club and started build and flying bigger rockets we made out of cardboard and balsa wood with plastic nose cone and little thin plastic parachutes.

We started going to Black Rock Desert in the state of Nevada where anything goes( its the only place in the USA where the FAA lets anyone launch rockets to an altitude of 100,000 ft ). Its only big crazy projects and in order to qualify it must be illegal to launch elsewhere.

My son is now 16 and in the last few years weve been building much bigger and better rockets out of carbon fiber, GPS, video cameras and computers monitoring altitude and velocity and triggering the multiple parachutes. These rockets go faster than the speed of sound sometimes Mach 2( twice as fast as the speed of sound ).

Some people do crossword puzzles to keep their brain sharp, this is my form of mental exercise.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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