More than 640 kilometers away in the small Dutch university town of Groningen, a twenty-nine-year-old graduate student named Peter Van Weert watched Eatwell’s speech on TV. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Peter didn’t like Eatwell, or his toff accent, but this Eurocrat had spoken the truth. Europe needed to get off its ass. Peter had tired of reading about young Americans his age with half his talent who had managed to cash in their dot.com millions before things had gotten really ugly. Deep down, he knew the tech revolution would bounce back, and when it did, he wanted a piece of it — he wanted the buckets of money, the notoriety, and the respect. His problem was that he was lazy. He didn’t like to work all that hard. And he preferred to let his ideas speak for themselves.
Most of his ideas eddied around the subject of water. More than hash, more than sex, more than John Wayne westerns, Peter was consumed with water. It had always been a big deal to him. Growing up in the northern part of the Netherlands, it could not be avoided. When the warm winds of spring prevailed, his family would sail the choppy waters between Holland and Denmark. At other times they would visit friends in Hoorn, where they would rent a flat-bottomed Friesian boat for three or four days, wandering the calm waves of the IJsselmeer, formerly the South Sea until a series of storms and floods forced the Dutch to build a 19-mile long dike that turned it into a fresh water lake.
“I never really left the placenta,” Peter used to say in his undergrad days when he was feeling intoxicated by the power of H2O. His pals thought he was a bit odd. He couldn’t believe that a decade had gone by since then, but it had. The millennium had come and gone. He was now in year seven of his PhD. He had decided once and for all that it would be his final year. What he would do next, he hadn’t a clue, but he was somewhat confident that it would be related to an idea that had been swishing around in his head for some time. The Eurocrat’s speech brought it to the fore once again.
Peter walked over to his stereo, turned on some Brahms and fired up his computer. He was restless. He had wanted to get away for a while and started surfing the Web for cheap airfares to Rome. The Internet connection was painfully slow. After minutes of waiting for a page to load, Peter smacked his fist on the table, knocking over a glass of water. The water oozed across the uneven contour of the wooden desktop, rolling toward the lowest part of the plain. Hanging on a cork board on the wall just above the place where the water dripped off the table, hung a postcard of New York — an old one dated by the presence of the World Trade Center towers sticking out their chests.
“Grote ver Jezus (Jesus Christ),” he whispered to himself.
With that, Peter threw himself into a week of monastic isolation. No phone calls, no nightcaps at the bar, no football. He stocked up on cheese and plunged into a fit of research that at times felt dreamlike. What emerged was an esoteric description of how the world’s water supply could be used to transmit voice, video, and data to homes and offices through the municipal water network.
It was a big idea. For Peter, it was up there with Newton’s apple. He wrote it all down, put it in an envelope, dropped it in his tutor’s mailbox on an uncharacteristically sunny Friday afternoon, and headed to the graduate lounge for half-priced pints of Oranjeboom beer.