《The Man Who Solved The Market》中文版翻译连载57
The Man Who Solved The Market (57)
The IBM team was as unique in personality as in method, especially Mercer. Tall and fit, Mercer jumped rope to stay in shape. As a younger man, he had displayed a passing resemblance to the actor Ryan Reynolds, but that was about all Mercer had in common with Hollywood flash. He developed a laconic, efficient style of interaction, wasting few words and avoiding speaking unless he deemed it necessary, a quirk some fellows cientists appreciated. Mercer sometimes let out an “I cracked it!” afte rsolving a difficult computation, but he generally was content humming or whistling to himself all day along, usually classical music. Mercer didn’t drink coffee, tea, or alcohol; he mostly stuck with Coca-Cola. On the rare occasions that he became frustrated, Mercer would yell out “bull-twadle,” which colleagues understood to be an amalgam of “bullshit” and “twaddle,” or idle talk.
Mercer had such long arms that his wife sewed him dress shirts with extended sleeves, as well as of colors and patterns. At a Halloween party one year, Jelinek, who had a mean streak, came dressed as Mercer, wearing a shirt with impossibly long sleeves. Mercer laughed along with his colleagues.
Mercer got to the office at six o’clock in the morning and met Brown and other colleagues for lunch at 11:15 a.m. Mercer consumed the same thing almost every day: a peanut-butter-and-jelly or tuna sandwich packed in a reusable Tupperware container or a used, folded brownpaper bag, which fellow researchers interpreted as a sign of frugality. After his sandwich, Mercer would open a bag of potato chips, lay them out on a table in order of size, eat the broken ones first, and then the rest, smallest to largest.
On Friday afternoon, the team met for soda, tea, cookies, and coffee cake. As they chatted, the researchers sometimes complained about IBM’s substandard pay. Other times, Mercer shared sections from an etymological dictionary he found especially amusing. Once in a while, he’d issue statements that seemed aimed at getting a rise out of his lunch-mates, such as time he declared that he thought he would live forever.
Brown was more animated, approachable, and energetic, with thick, curly brown hair and an infectious charm. Unlike Mercer, Brown forged friendships within the group, several members of which appreciated his sneaky of humor.
As the group struggled to make progress in natural-languages processing, though, Brown showed impatience, directing special ire at an intern named Phil Resnik. A graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania who had earned a Bachelor of arts in computer science at Harvard University and would later become a respected academic, Resnik hoped to combine mathematical tactics with linguistic principles. Brown had little patience for Resnik’s approach, mocking his younger colleagues and jumping on his mistakes.
One day, as a dozen IBM staffers watched Resnik work through an issue on an office white board, Brown ran up to him, grabbed the marker out of Resnik’s hand, and sneered, “This is kindergarten computer science!”
Resnik sat back down, embarrassed.
Another time, Brown called Resnik “worthless” and “a complete idiot”.
Brown developed insulting nicknames for many of his junior colleagues, members of the group recall. He called Meredith Goldsmith, the only woman in the group, “Merry Death,” for example, or referred to her as “Jennifer,” the name of a previous member of the group. Most frequently, Brown called Goldsmith “little Miss Meredith,” a name the recent Yale University graduate viewed as particularly belittling.
Mercer and Brown helped mentor Goldsmith, which she appreciated. But Mercer also shared his opinion with her that women belonged at home, taking care of children, not in the working world.
Brown, whose wife had been appointed head of public health for New York City, viewed himself a progressive. He valued Goldsmith’s contributions and told her she was like a daughter to him. Yet, that didn’t stop Brown from allowing inappropriate jokes to flow amid the group’s locker-room environment.
“They told dirty jokes all the time; it was a sport,” she recalls.
Goldsmith eventually quit, partly due to the uncomfortable environment in the group.
“In a sense they were both nice and sexist to me,” Goldsmith says. “I definitely felt objectified and not taken seriously.”
Brown didn’t mean anything personal by the insults, or at least that’s what members of the group told themselves. And he wasn’t the only one who enjoyed chewing out or mocking others. A fierce and ruthless culture existed within the group, inspired by Jelinek’s ornery personality. Researchers would posit ideas and colleagues would do everything they could to eviscerate them, throwing personal jabs along the way. They’d fight it out until reaching a consensus on the merits of the suggestion. Twin brothers in the group, Stephen and Vincent Della Pietra, each of whom had undergraduate degrees in physics from Princeton and doctorates in physics from Harvard, leveled some of the most vicious assaults, racing to a whiteboard to prove how foolish each other’s arguments had been. It was no-holds-barred intellectual combat. Outside of a research lab, such behavior might be considered rude and offensive, but many of Jelinek’s staffers usually didn’t take it personally.
“We ripped each other to shreds,” recalls David Magerman, an internon the IBM speech team. “And then we played tennis together.”