Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Enhancing the enjoyment of taking pictures with news that matters, features that entertain and images that delight. Published frequently.

Jerry Pournelle Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

9 September 2017

When we woke up this morning, we reached for the iPhone to read the news. Its charge had dipped so low we had to plug it in before launching Safari, a minor inconvenience. And then we learned Jerry Pournelle had died. A much more serious note.

He was 84 and had survived brain cancer and a stroke in recent years before passing away in his sleep last night.

We had forgotten him. But there was a time in the early ages of personal computing (the 1980s) that we would open a hefty new issue of Byte magazine only to turn to his column about life at Chaos Manor. Those Byte magazines are stored under the stairs in the basement (we think of them as part of the foundation at the bunker) but we can find them online without getting dirty now.

His 'laws' were worth remembering too. Like making sure everything is plugged in when you have a problem.

He was a writer himself, specializing in science fiction, and this was a column written by a user of computers and software.

He only wrote about the stuff he used to write his books and do business, which included more oil changing and spark-plug cleaning than today's personal devices require.

He candidly reported on what he wanted to do, what worked (not much), what didn't and how he tried to fix it. Science reality, you might call it, and just as much an adventure as science fiction.

It was real. And it inspired our own approach to reviews. Use the stuff on real projects. Tell it like it is. Here's an example from his last Byte column:

Last month I said you should get Norton Utilities for Windows 95 3.0 and use it. I stand by the advice: When you have a problem, NU 3 does a great job of fixing it. Its registry cleaner is the best I have come across. It can handle a variety of problems that would drive you nuts if you had to deal with them by hand. Having said that, let me also advise you not to allow this annoying program to run in background. Bring it up, use it to fix problems, then turn it off.

His "laws" were worth remembering too. Like making sure everything is plugged in when you have a problem. And inspired our own (like it's never the hardware, even when it is).

We remember his problems finding a monitor that he could see as his near vision deteriorated. He ended up with some huge thing that had low resolution (it might even have been a television) because it made the letters big -- a solution we remembered trying to help Mom when her macular degeneration made using a computer difficult. We can tell you her 27-inch iMac has helped enormously, making the letters bigger over a larger screen, just as Pournelle recommended.

He sat on the other side of the table politically, an ally of Yorty and Reagan and Gingrich. But he came from a military and intelligence background we didn't share either.

You don't really have to agree politically to admire someone if you can respect their argument. The polarization foisted on this country by opinion outlets posing as news organizations has obscured that but it remains unassailable.

The proof is that you can, when discussing opposing views, grant debate points now and then to each other for well-reasoned arguments. Which are a far cry from talking points and never resemble the sound bytes that pass for discussion today.

We don't recall Pournelle's political views coming up as he wrote about life at Chaos Manor. It wasn't on topic. But it's worth remembering the respect he earned from those like us who did not sit on the same side of the political table with him.

We put the iPhone down still charging itself and wished (for just a moment), sleep still mixed with dreams in our eyes, that there was some sort of recharger you could use for human beings you respect.

There really isn't anything, we realized as we rubbed our eyes, except to remember them.

BackBack to Photo Corners