On Monday morning I was enjoying a chat with my friend David on the sun-drenched patio of Kramerbooks. David was in town from New York City, where people are apparently accustomed to seeing famous people all the time.
We hadn’t been seated for more than a few minutes and David said, “The guy who plays McNulty on The Wire just walked in.” I don’t watch The Wire, so I wouldn’t have recognized actor Dominic West even if I had seen him. About two weeks ago I walked out of the Asian restaurant RICE here in DC and didn’t notice actor Kal Penn holding the door for me. I am simply lousy at recognizing actors – I once got frustrated with Sir Anthony Hopkins and elbowed him. I had no idea it was the famed English actor. I guess I just don’t watch enough television and movies, or perhaps I just don’t pay enough attention. Who knows?
Anyway, I suggested to David that I give my $10 to the hit HBO series actor. David got up and did a quick sweep of the store and said that he had already left out another door.
We went back to talking.
About 30 minutes later David says to me, “You are not going to believe this, but Peter Ustinov is sitting behind you.” Ok, what is the chance of David seeing two famous actors in the span of about 30 minutes…4 blocks from my home in Washington, DC no less! I found myself repeating his name in an effort to draw a connection to who Peter Ustinov was. Spartacus is the only thing that came to mind…but I couldn’t recall the details of his appearance. Both of us showing our geek side quickly Googled the actor’s name on our phones and sure enough, the man behind me looked a lot like him. The man sitting behind me looked a little younger than the image on my phone, but was pretty similar.
I decided to offer him my $10 and see if we were right. David reminded me, “If he has a British accent, then it’s definitely him.”
I approached the man and explained my giving project. In an English accent, he politely replied, “I would love to but actually I have to be leaving to take a flight.”
I asked for his name just to track in my records which is my common practice.
He replied, “Peter.”
This is him! Wow, this is kind of exciting. I had to ask him if he was the famed English actor of Spartacus, many Agatha Christie movies, Lorenzo’s Oil, etc. “No,” he said shaking his head side to side. “I get that a lot, but I am much younger and not nearly as fat as him!” he said with a grin.
My first thought was that he was politely denying being the real Peter Ustinov…I mean what are the chances that they look similar, have British accents, and are both named Peter!
As it turns out, I was speaking with Pieter Adriaans, an accomplished Dutch professor, scientist, and painter. He was sitting by himself reading Programming the Universe by MIT professor Seth Lloyd. “It’s interesting, however, I disagree with some fundamental points that he makes in the book.”
Pieter probably can make a good case for his arguments too! He studied philosophy and mathematics in Leiden, The Netherlands and has been active in research in the areas of artificial intelligence and relational database systems since the mid 1980s. He later cofounded a company called Syllogic that he sold to little company out of Plano, TX called Perot Systems. Since then, he has focused mostly his research, sailing, and painting.
Pieter was part of a very interesting sailing project to make a state-of-the-art sailing vessel that had superior auto-piloting. You can find out more here at the Robosail Sailing Lab’s website.
I don’t know when he has time to do his painting, but apparently he does. He has hundreds of impressive works. You can browse through his paintings on his website which has paintings that date back to the 1960s.
Pieter was such an interesting person that every answer triggered a new question, but I was ever mindful of his time, so I thanked him for sharing a few minutes with me and said goodbye.
David says he will leave the $10 as an extra tip for someone working in the service industry while he is here in the US.
As we were leaving, David said he saw Harrison Ford walking into the bookstore. Ok, I just made that up!