Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Dr. Jerry Pournelle, RIP

Lost in all this hurricane nonsense was the news that Dr. Pournelle passed Friday afternoon (September 8th). I never met him in person, but we did communicate via e-mail on occasion. Thinking about it the past few days, I realized just how much Dr. Pournelle influenced the path of my life; from his monthly column in Byte magazine, to his daynotes website (the world's first blog, although he hated the term), to his books, one of which (Oath of Fealty) is directly responsible for us landing at Arcosanti.

Steve Sailor over at Taki's Magazine has a memorial article on Dr. Pournelle:

In 1977 Jerry paid $12,000 to have a state-of-the-art personal computer assembled for him, supposedly to boost his productivity. By 1980 that led to his long-running “Chaos Manor” column in Byte magazine in which he would document his troubles on the bleeding edge of PC technology. As fellow word-processing aficionado Dave Barry explained jealously, Jerry got paid to mess around with his computers when he should be writing:
Every month, his column has basically the same plot, which is:

1. Jerry tries to make some seemingly simple change to one of his computers, such as connect it to a new printer.

2. Everything goes hideously wrong…. Sometimes there are massive power outages all over the West Coast. Poor Jerry spends days trying to get everything straightened out.

3. Finally…Jerry gets his computer working again approximately the way it used to, and he writes several thousand words about it for ‘Byte.’

I swear it’s virtually the same plot, month after month, and yet it’s a popular column in a magazine that appeals primarily to knowledgeable computer people.

I like to imagine Steve Jobs circulating “Chaos Manor” columns to his executives with scribbled annotations suggesting that some people would pay good money to not have to go through all this.

Sailor doesn't mention it, but Dr. Pournelle always named his computers. His first one was christened Ezekiel, or Zeke for short. He frequently referred to it as his "friend Ezekiel, who happens to be a computer." Zeke now resides in the Smithsonian.

I tried to remove the link to his website from my list over there on the right, but I just... can't. That link has existed on every website I have ever maintained. Someday it will disappear. Today is not that day.

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