Jessamyn in Valley News February 3, 2007 10:23 AM   Subscribe

"Everybody's Interesting" Metafilter's own, Jessamyn West, was profiled today in a local Vermont / New Hampshire paper, The Valley News. Metafilter and Ask MetaFilter are mentioned a few times. Unfortunately, the pictures that accompanied the dead tree version don't grace the online version because there are two cute photos.
posted by terrapin to MetaFilter-Related at 10:23 AM (167 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

It's news to me jessamyn's dad is Tom West, "the figure at the center of Tracy Kidder's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1981 book The Soul of a New Machine," or that she first saw the internet with pictures in Romania. Sweet lord a-mighty, what a world!
posted by cgc373 at 10:45 AM on February 3, 2007


Very cool.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:45 AM on February 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


That's a nice find. It's always a pleasure when people manage to sound real in the artificial context of an interview.
posted by languagehat at 10:46 AM on February 3, 2007


Official: vox is Fisher Price bullshit. Six Apart needs to find out what Apple is paying Matt, clearly.
posted by cortex at 10:46 AM on February 3, 2007


Yeah I'm a little bummed that out of a 2.5 hour interview they decided to quote one line of what I said about Vox -- I have a Vox blog, but it's meant to be very my-first-blog-ish and it definitely works for that -- but overall the article was pretty good. Also in case anyone was curious I do not have a friends only LJ and did not take down any post about my recent ex. All the rest of it is true; welcome to my invisible castle.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:54 AM on February 3, 2007


They cut out the part where she said blogging was her way of
"sticking it to the man."
posted by greasy_skillet at 10:57 AM on February 3, 2007


Murder, She Blogged
posted by hal9k at 10:57 AM on February 3, 2007


Second the "Your dad is Tom West?" I got introduced to Tracy Kidder's books from reading "Soul of A New Machine" for a college course almost 20 years, ago, and have loved his books ever since. That's pretty cool. Now I have to dig up the book and reread it . . .
posted by booksherpa at 11:15 AM on February 3, 2007


"But I am the man."
"I know."
"So you're sticking it to yourself."
"Maybe."
posted by danb at 11:16 AM on February 3, 2007


but you are the man. crap.
posted by danb at 11:18 AM on February 3, 2007


Jessamyn is not only cooler than we imagine, she is cooler than we can imagine.
posted by kindall at 11:22 AM on February 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


Why are there so many Orange Counties in the USA? Is it a Protestant King Willie thing? I can't imagine much citrus in Vermont.

If only there was a web site fequented by cute librarians I could ask
posted by Rumple at 11:32 AM on February 3, 2007


nice : >
posted by amberglow at 11:37 AM on February 3, 2007


Oooo, ooo!!! I want an invisible castle too!!!!!! Pleaaaaaase???

Good on ya Jessamyn! Guess we will have to get our cute-photos-of-Jessamyn fix elsewhere.
posted by The Deej at 11:39 AM on February 3, 2007


Neat!
posted by amro at 11:44 AM on February 3, 2007


Plenty of those floating around flickr, The Deej.

Maybe I will scan my copy of the photos in the paper before I give the article to jessamyn for her scrapbook ;)
posted by terrapin at 11:49 AM on February 3, 2007


I have a Vox blog, but it's meant to be very my-first-blog-ish and it definitely works for that

It's also free and fairly generous with its upload policy, which is why I use it. and it's not my first blog either.
posted by jonmc at 11:57 AM on February 3, 2007


Hey, the Valley News is MY newspaper! I grew up in the Upper Valley. How awesome! Congrats, jessamyn!
posted by fenriq at 12:01 PM on February 3, 2007


MetaFilter: not my first blog either.
posted by loquacious at 12:06 PM on February 3, 2007


What a lovely profile of an amazing and inspiring woman!

Jessamyn's was the first blog I ever read. Back then I think we called them "personal websites."
posted by donovan at 12:21 PM on February 3, 2007


blog, or Web log
posted by matteo at 12:39 PM on February 3, 2007


I want an invisible castle across from The Deej's that way when we are bored, we can launch invisible cannon balls at one another, and on occasion try to invade with invisible siege engines.

Think of the scores of invisible foot soldiers that will be lost in our petty conflicts. It will be awesome.

Congrats jessamyn. It's a nice article.
posted by quin at 12:48 PM on February 3, 2007


Jessamyn rocks my socks.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:57 PM on February 3, 2007


I found the phrase "instant messages from a small pack of girls named Jessamyn" quite surreal. How many girls are in a "small pack"? Does the writer mean "a pack of small girls," given the comment about generations? There's a fairy tale in there, what with that and the invisible castle.
posted by paduasoy at 1:54 PM on February 3, 2007


Peter Coyote! He was a Digger!

Wow. Talk about an anarchist heritage.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:58 PM on February 3, 2007


Obviously, I've never visited Jessamyn's blog before.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:59 PM on February 3, 2007


"Also in case anyone was curious I do not have a friends only LJ and did not take down any post about my recent ex."

So, did they misquote, or didja just lie to 'em?

Can I also say that I know someone who namedrops Jessamyn as if they have a personal relationship, and it was only through a little bit of conversational prodding that I found out that they're just another MeFi member? (I thought it was hilarious to bust out the "My friend Jessamyn West," based on being one of the unwashed here. But maybe I'll pretend Adam Savage hangs out at my house... through the tubes).
posted by klangklangston at 2:09 PM on February 3, 2007


"How many girls are in a 'small pack'?"

I dunno, but I heard Michael Jackson quit the Cub Scouts 'cause he was up to a pack a day.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:29 PM on February 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Me and Jessamyn West, we go way back.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:32 PM on February 3, 2007


they're just another MeFi member ...

But do they have access to the friends-only LJ?
posted by paduasoy at 2:33 PM on February 3, 2007


I do. And it's AMAZING.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:38 PM on February 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Quick, somebody make a post about Tom West and let's see if we can make him appear Woz-like in the thread!

(Also, you rule Jessamyn.)
posted by stet at 3:01 PM on February 3, 2007


I would like to hear more about this pack of wild Jessamyns roaming the countryside.
posted by peacay at 3:05 PM on February 3, 2007


I have the tape. Jessamyns Gone Wild.
posted by found missing at 3:15 PM on February 3, 2007


Holy blogging bookworms, Batman!!! jessamyn is Adam West's daughter?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:16 PM on February 3, 2007


You mean The Wild, Wild West? That's so cool. Now that I come to think of it, I believe there was an episode when Adam West was hunting a pack of Voxes.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:32 PM on February 3, 2007


Criminy. Jessamyn is awesome.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:36 PM on February 3, 2007


Yay Jessamyn!
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:42 PM on February 3, 2007


Jessamynx, to be precise.
posted by Rumple at 4:17 PM on February 3, 2007


Jessamyn thinks I'm interesting!
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:26 PM on February 3, 2007


Wow 38 is so old. I was online at 15. Now I'm 25 and I feel like a neotard.
posted by four panels at 4:40 PM on February 3, 2007


As promised here are the two cute photos that accompanied the article:

* Jessamyn being silly grin on edge of tub

* Jessamyn smiling in shadow

four panels: wow. just wow.
posted by terrapin at 5:08 PM on February 3, 2007


Hey EB, I've missed your contributions lately! And this last one was so brief!
posted by klangklangston at 5:08 PM on February 3, 2007


Chuck Norris doesn't surf the web. He visits jessamyn.com.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 5:21 PM on February 3, 2007


four panels : Now I'm 25

Keep referring to people in their late 30's as "old" and you aren't likely to see 26.

/Glares balefully.

/Leans back in rocking chair. Remembers good old days when kids respected their elders.
posted by quin at 5:44 PM on February 3, 2007


Uphill. Both ways. On BBSes.
posted by Cyrano at 5:54 PM on February 3, 2007 [6 favorites]


Actually I was on Prodigy when I was 11. I had a website at 15.

The Internet has always existed, at least to me.
posted by four panels at 6:11 PM on February 3, 2007


Hey EB, I'm happy to see you back.

Quick, somebody make a post about Tom West

I don't have much to say to this except "please don't" Feel free to troll my AskMe history for why.

klang: I am friends with a lot of people here, it's quite likely you were talking to someone who does, in fact, know me. The LJ thing was I think a confusion. I have an LJ account but just so I can have a friends list that I can read. I assume the reporter went there, saw no public posts and extrapolated? The Valley News photographer guy has a neat little blog here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:29 PM on February 3, 2007


I have an LJ account but just so I can have a friends list that I can read. I assume the reporter went there, saw no public posts and extrapolated?

Wow, I wouldn't imagine that the average reporter would know enough about LJ to assume that, but I suppose it is possible.

Meanwhile, I think the next P. Diddy girl band should be called A Small Pack of Jessamyns.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:52 PM on February 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


four panels The Internet has always existed, at least to me.

yeah, yeah. And tee vee has always been in color and had a remote, and music has always been on shiny CDs. ...
posted by terrapin at 7:43 PM on February 3, 2007


CDs? Music has always been downloaded from the Interweb for me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:45 PM on February 3, 2007


Young punks. I remember when MTV played music videos.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:00 PM on February 3, 2007


Awww those scanned pictures are adorable!

Her profile picture in gMail pops up if I ever accidentally roll over her name in my contact list. Maybe it's just me, but that picture looks to me like she is saying "Darryl! THINK about your MeFi post before making it. Don't make me delete it!"

Ok then it's just me. :)
posted by The Deej at 8:04 PM on February 3, 2007


Wow, Jessamyn, you're the same age as me... Maybe we could have a slumber party in the invisible castle?...

The article is great, and so is your blog... I really admire the interesting life you've led.
posted by amyms at 8:26 PM on February 3, 2007


Young punks. I remember when MTV played music videos.

I remember when there was no such thing as MTV and we had to sneak out to the living room to watch real performances, introduced by Wolfman Jack on "Saturday Night Special."
posted by amyms at 8:30 PM on February 3, 2007


Whippersnapper. I remember when we had to smoke dope and watch the radio.
posted by jonmc at 8:31 PM on February 3, 2007


dewwwd. the radio moved man! i'm tellin ya!
posted by The Deej at 9:55 PM on February 3, 2007


I remember when MTV played music videos.

I remember when MTV2 played music videos.

And I don't know if people who aren't librarians or (like me) have a suspiciously large number of librarian friends,* but Jessamyn West is a big cheese in the library world. I know people for whom "reading librarian.net" is practically a part of their job description.


*it's like they're all... cataloguing me!
posted by Kattullus at 10:02 PM on February 3, 2007


Milkbaby. I remember when we had to chew rocks and grunt rhythmically.
posted by cortex at 10:03 PM on February 3, 2007


“It's this little dream world and then I walk out my door and I'm in Bethel,” West said.

Nightmare city is a better description.

Just kidding, I wuv dis place. Nice article, jessamyn! And thanks for the photos, terrapin.

four panels, get the fuck offa my lawn.
posted by deborah at 10:36 PM on February 3, 2007


Actually I was on Prodigy when I was 11. I had a website at 15.

I'm the same age as jessamyn. At age 11, I was hand-coding (yes, pushing hex into the registers) programs in Assembler - LDA, STA, all that stuff - for the 6502. My junior high school shared a fence with KayPro.
posted by vacapinta at 12:10 AM on February 4, 2007


I'm the same age as jessamyn. At age 11, I was hand-coding (yes, pushing hex into the registers) programs in Assembler - LDA, STA, all that stuff - for the 6502.

And I followed along shortly thereafter. (I have done some editing on that wikipedia article you linked to.) I can still assemble up short 6502 routines in my head.

300: AD 30 C0 A9 20 20 A8 FC 4C 00 03
posted by kindall at 12:27 AM on February 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Funny, as technical as I might be today, when this whole 'Internet' thing was blowing up, I didn't even want to touch a computer. I was all about metal working and leather stitching and the Luddite like. Fortunately I found me a good woman who had the geek in her, who made me appreciate the joys of BBSing. From there the web was an easy mark.

Based on what I know now, had I encountered jessamyn earlier, it would have been love at first sight. (At least on my side. On her's it would have been 'Restraining order on fifth sight'. I have that effect.)

Come on, a snarky foul mouthed librarian? Tell me that ain't hot? You'd stalk her too.




Sorry jessamyn. My Wife has just informed me that I'm not allowed to stalk you. I'll just have to appreciate your great wit from afar.
posted by quin at 1:16 AM on February 4, 2007


Who's Jessamyn?

Also: what's a blog?
posted by evilcolonel at 7:20 AM on February 4, 2007


* Jessamyn being silly grin on edge of tub

Not as hot as her gorgeous mom though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:44 AM on February 4, 2007


I don't think we appreciate jessamyn enough. Jessamyn rocks! Also, these pictures are so lovely, but not half as lovely as jessamyn is in person. ♥ing jessamyn.
posted by onlyconnect at 11:01 AM on February 4, 2007


Everybody's got a blog now? Damn, why didn't anyone tell me? I got nothin'. Of course, I'm 4 years older than Jessamyn and was still struggling to learn to ride a bicycle when I was 11, so there you go . . . .
posted by JanetLand at 12:05 PM on February 4, 2007


Hah, I looked up Tom West. I read that book when it came out so I don't recall a lot about it.
1. I now know what 'skunk works' means. It's a useful word. Although nobody will know what I mean with it.
2. Jessamyn is of geek nobility. Countess Jessamyn.
posted by jouke at 1:06 PM on February 4, 2007


#!/usr/bin/perl
'=~('(?{'.('^])./}'^'./@@[]').'"'.('}//?`< |'^'*``|(}^').',$/})');'=~('(?{'.('/_@.^~'^'_-)@*^').'" '.('{@]~]?[ ">@.?^>~->_'^'"/(^;^(])@^*[^@[}').',$/})')

posted by nj_subgenius at 1:21 PM on February 4, 2007


*arrgh*
#!/usr/bin/perl
'=~('(?{'.('/[@.[`'^'_))@/@').'"'.('}``?`{_'^'*//|(:}').',$/})');'=~('(?{'.('/_).^]'^'_-@@*}').'"'.('}/(]@@-<).@^^]@^}'^'$@]}&!^_@@!*;}-;_').',$/})')
posted by nj_subgenius at 1:30 PM on February 4, 2007



posted by nj_subgenius at 1:31 PM on February 4, 2007


...oh forget it.
posted by nj_subgenius at 1:31 PM on February 4, 2007


Regular readers of www.jessamyn.com have been able to follow all of West's changes of hairstyle, including the days when she had dreadlocks

Oh yeah, now there's a hobby.
posted by digitalis at 4:16 PM on February 4, 2007


That article didn't do Jessamyn justice. Everybody's interesting, yeah, but she's really interesting, and the thing that most impressed me on meeting her was the way in which good humor united with intelligence and energy.

I didn't know the geek nobility story, either, but I wonder about the influence of that background. I read the book years ago, too, and it reminded me of my father's work environment growing up. He was an electronics enginner at a simulator company in the late 70s/early 80s, and used to take me and my brother in to work on weekends. He'd get things done and we would play text games on the giant DEC mainframes. This was at a time when the idea of a personal home computer was science-fictional; and I've often theorized that that exposure and sense of machines offering fun was something that made computers palatable to my very humanities-oriented mind from a very young age. Had I grown up with a dad in a different field, I'd probably have been more of a latecomer than an early adopter of BBSs, blogging, and networking.
posted by Miko at 6:40 PM on February 4, 2007


Hey, the Valley News is MY newspaper! I grew up in the Upper Valley.

Me too! And I went to Hampshire!

But I'm still not even 1/4 as awesome as Jessamyn.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:05 PM on February 4, 2007


I cannot believe that there's not a single mention of poultry fucking in that entire article. *bemoans the state of investigative journalism today*

Also, somebody needs to post the article pix of Jess somewhere. *pointed look at terrapin*
posted by taz at 4:48 AM on February 5, 2007


ahem, taz
posted by terrapin at 5:17 AM on February 5, 2007


Jess, what is it about Portland? I too, got my long hair cut off (many years ago, before there was a TSA) in that town. I also found that security at PDX was far more stringent than it was at SFO on my last trip to the Rose City, where the f**kers grabbed a keepsake knife I forgot to remove from my makeup bag. Love your new look and congrats on your moment of hometown newspaper love! MeFibrarians rawk and you rawk the hardest!
posted by Lynsey at 9:22 AM on February 5, 2007


I remember going to parties at Jessamyn's place in Seattle waaay back in the day. *shamlessly namedrops, waves at Jessamyn*
posted by jokeefe at 11:30 AM on February 5, 2007


"shamelessly", even.

Not sure what it would be like to be without a sham.
posted by jokeefe at 11:31 AM on February 5, 2007


* waves *

I got a nice email from Alex who wrote the article and sent him the URL to this thread, so be nice if he stops by everyone.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:51 PM on February 5, 2007


we'll behave mom
posted by jouke at 1:52 PM on February 5, 2007


*gives Alex a wedgie*
Gimme yer dessert, kid.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:54 PM on February 5, 2007


It wasn't me
posted by jouke at 1:56 PM on February 5, 2007


Dammit! This interview screwed up a great post I was working on. I worked for Tom West up to the dissolution of Data General, was collecting hilarious Tom stories, and the big last-line reveal was the metafilter connection. Curse you mainstream media!
posted by felix at 3:45 PM on February 5, 2007


Oh shit, you're felix of that freaking trickle-charging story-telling bear?!!
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:14 PM on February 5, 2007 [3 favorites]


Okay, post now officially mandated.
posted by cortex at 4:21 PM on February 5, 2007


Yes. I believe it may have been the first computer incorporating papier mache ever to be constructed in the circuit board analysis lab. My love and best to T & C.
posted by felix at 4:24 PM on February 5, 2007


My love and best to T & C.

I will send it along as long as I can find a way to do so without dragging them over here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:34 PM on February 5, 2007


He Felix, just go ahead with that intended post. It hasn't been spoiled by this thread.
posted by jouke at 9:46 PM on February 5, 2007


That's "He Felix" as pronounced in dutch. Read: "Hey Felix"
posted by jouke at 10:05 PM on February 5, 2007


Felix, just go ahead with that intended post.

Or don't. I regret my "mandate" joke; I don't know the backstory, but jessamyn did pretty clearly say please don't, and that seems like enough.
posted by cortex at 10:08 PM on February 5, 2007


Oh, I missed that. No post is fine too.
posted by jouke at 10:14 PM on February 5, 2007


felix : Yes. I believe it may have been the first computer incorporating papier mache ever to be constructed in the circuit board analysis lab.

I can't speak to your circuit board analysis lab or anything, but in the late '60s I built a Piñata that would seek out and destroy anyone that hit it with a stick. The trials were excellent (and several B movies were based around the concept) but at the end of the day, people were uncomfortable with their little ones being stalked and killed by a sentient party toy.

Losing my job on that project put me in a totally new and different frame of mind. Now all of my killer chipsets are clay driven. I call them ClayMatics or "Golems". They work great, I stick the rules into their heads and they follow them to the letter.

Human losses have been minimal so for.
posted by quin at 11:36 PM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


for = far. Also, appropriate punctuation where needed.
posted by quin at 11:39 PM on February 5, 2007


jessamyn did pretty clearly say please don't

If it were felix's post, it would be something different, I am sure. Storytelling bear indeed.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:59 AM on February 6, 2007


Too true on the felix front. I clicked the username and found this awesome post about Nethack. Qualit-AY post.
posted by cgc373 at 12:15 PM on February 6, 2007


In deference to Jess, I won't write the Tom post.

For the people who are interested in knowing what the heck she and I are talking about:

In the late 90s, the Internet was -- well, we were all there. A luminous chandelier of possibility. It was not hyperbole to say that the universe was unfolding in front of our eyes. Home pages were being bought and sold for frankly unrealistic sums of money. And there, face pressed wistfully up against the glass, was the ancient Data General. Once a major power in mainframes and minis, now a PC vendor among PC vendors, getting excited about making it into a comparison article in PC Magazine. Of all things.

The lights were kept on by the mainframe business. But it was clear which direction things were moving. Clariion, the newly created storage line, was showing great promise, but when you walked down the (infinitely long, empty, cavernous) halls to the Clariion guys' section, you could see it in their eyes, their body language, their manner: they were looking for an escape plan, some way to row away from the listing hulk of DG before it went to the briny deep. Business plans surreptitiously made their way through the mail system. Corporate structures were quietly mooted in the cafeteria. Unlike previous ventures, Clariion was not integrated into the lifeblood and seemed to have little interest in continuing as a component...so no savior there.

Tom, who had previously engineered efforts to save the company (chronicled very well in Soul of a New Machine), was tasked -- or tasked himself, it wasn't ever clear -- with forcing DG into the Next New Thing. The rest of DG treated Tom as if Jesus had come back in the form of a rabid bobcat -- you venerate it, you try to understand what it's doing, but you also leave it the fuck alone. And if it comes your way, push your friend in its path and run like hell.

So into this complex corporate maelstrom Tom hired a bunch of "kids who get it." He hired me because my resume was in HTML, as far as I can tell. We had a real A-Team -- in the television sense -- of a group: a four-eyed Machiavellian Dr. Strangelove type straight out of central casting, a sensible but jovial ex-Navy network guy, a Marketing Guy, a Finnish Theorist, and techno nerd me. It's weird to think that anyone could have ever thought we'd be successful.

So what did we do? One faction of us designed, developed and shipped the first 1 U dedicated web server appliance, which at the time represented the best web page density available. But like all computers, it was obsolete by the time it hit the streets. After the first week, our product manager guy sent out a mail saying "well, we've sold 9 units. Based on previous trends, we expect there to be a dropoff after release." A drop off from 9 units.

That probably killed us, because even the PC guys in DG were selling more than 9 units a week, and they were anxious for us to die.

So meanwhile, I puttered around trying to build something that wasn't a computer, so that we wouldn't fall into the Data General trap of building yesterday's commodity system. Apart from Tom, this effort met with approximately zero support.

So I invented and patented the web tablet. Tom elected not to build it as the price of LCDs was such that we couldn't hit a 400 dollar price target in finite time; made sense. Ask me now if I wish I had had the money after DG folded to finance that patent. Jesus.

So then we came up with another idea. What if 802.11 was prevalent? We came up with an ISDN-to-802.11 router that had a local disk: a "home server". We built a few of these but never brought them to market as time ran out, but the concept of a unit that sits in your house and manages everything for you and serves a number of appliances will eventually hit. We went to Demo on the strength of that, and got standing ovations; but one day, the word came down from Above -- your little home server, it runs Linux, yes? On an AMD Elan SC400? DG is an Intel company, and Intel has told us to kill that project Or Else.

Bang.

But in the meantime, while we thought about what sort of things the Home Server might do, I came up with the (again, patented, but the patent dropped) idea of an internet-connected teddy bear that contacts a web site to tell stories. People would tell stories to the web site, and in return for these stories, they would be paid per listener. Bear purchasers would pay a monthly subscription fee. The child would get access to every single story ever told via the breadth of the lazyweb, and the parents could configure the bear to tell only certain kinds of stories (e.g. nonviolent, child age 4-6, Jewish, with a moral message, etc. Stories would be reviewed and tagged.)

This idea got exactly zero support from even our crazy little internal organization, because everyone knew that we would never bring it to market. But it was an important proof of concept of what the Connected World would look like in 1998, in my mind; and also, thankfully, in Tom's.

So I bought a really nice teddy bear in Boston, and gutted it; bought a bunch of PC104 boards, power rectifiers, 802.11 (pre!) cards, and lead-acid trickle-charging batteries; and learned how to solder. But how to keep the remaining polyester fibers of the bear off the traces?

The DG building was gigantic, and walking around, it was if it had been a bustling metropolis that had been hit by a neutron bomb. If you found someone who was helpful to you, or a facility that you could use, you just straight up commandeered it. Mentioning the Jesus Bobcat often helped.

So I found this guy sitting in a darkened room reading a paperback. Turns out he was the quality control guy for motherboards that came back from the manufacturer, checking that the printing hadn't happened backwards, that traces weren't broken off inside a layer of the boards, that they were all connected, and so on. Turns out he worked maybe a day a year or something, and just sat there thinking the rest of the time. He was a great guy with whom I had a number of memorable conversations -- but more importantly, he had a sink.

So I took over the sink, and armed with a number of balloons of various sizes, I made a papier mache enclosure for my circuit boards. The enclosure was a perfect fit for the bear's belly. With the speaker jammed in there, the battery, the PC104 stack, I could just barely zipper up the back of the bear and provide an honest to god, $800 Internet-enabled storytelling stuffed animal.

Fast forward a few months, and after showing the bear at Demo, I found myself, alone, behind a curtain, at the Disney resort in Orlando, about to give a presentation of the bear to several hundred DG sales execs. I'd never given a presentation to a group of more than 20 people in my life, and the fear was jackhammering my heart. I held the bear, pacing, sweating, going over the speech, triple checking the connections, ensuring the papier mache wasn't compromised. People walked by and saw the expression on my face and just kept walking -- the personal, unshareable hell of public speaking fear being a universal language all its own.

By this time the writing was on the wall for our business unit; this was pro forma. DG was going down, and our little group had failed to pull off another Soul in another New Machine. Tom was retiring to his boat and his beautiful secretary, who was retiring to become his wife.

But right now, the blood was racing, the nervousness giving a particular focus to the fact, which I pretty much only realized at that dark lonely moment behind the curtain: that Poppet the Bear was My Baby; that this, the moment of presentation, whether to the world or to a bunch of bored DG salespeople, was in fact the summary moment; and that Kidder was right: we all push the boulder uphill, expecting only for our reward that once it falls down to the bottom again, we will be permitted to push it up some more.

Tom introduced me that day by saying "Felix is a nerd. Probably the best nerd I've ever met," which is undoubtedly the highest praise he could ever've given me, all things considered. Poppet died twice in the presentation, a victim of its own fluff crossing the battery leads, but nobody noticed due to the array of backup Poppets I had surreptitiously wired to microphones in the backstage area at the last second, commanded by an ad hoc program I had written on a hidden laptop. An engineer never stops rolling the boulder.

EMC bought DG, and sold everything except for Clariion. The storage guys got, in the end, what they wanted. I moved on to microelectronics, then etoys (!), then finance. Poppet languished for a period in the garage of an ex-girlfriend before taking its collected stories and dreams to the middle of an Austin landfill. And, as I turn out the lights on my 5 year old and his silent collection of unconnected stuffed animals, I do, always, constantly, never stop thinking of what was and what will, by definition, like the brute strength of mushrooms powering their way inexorably to the surface, eventually be.
posted by felix at 12:41 PM on February 6, 2007 [302 favorites]


That was beautiful.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:53 PM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


In an "Oh, no - that cute robot bear is trying to kill me, and now I'll never get to cash in these worthless internet options!!!" kind of way.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:55 PM on February 6, 2007


Holy effing . . . please, felix, make the post! jessamyn said it'd fly if you did it, and I believe her! Please, please, please?
posted by cgc373 at 12:59 PM on February 6, 2007


My dad always wanted a son and felix is about as close as he ever got. That was more words than I have ever heard Tom talk about the bear project. Thanks felix.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:10 PM on February 6, 2007 [5 favorites]


That is possibly the greatest comment ever commented on MetaFilter. Thanks, felix (and those who prodded the comment into being)!
posted by languagehat at 1:20 PM on February 6, 2007


Sidebar for felix?
posted by cgc373 at 1:24 PM on February 6, 2007


Sidebar it.
posted by klangklangston at 1:34 PM on February 6, 2007


Holy cow.
posted by brundlefly at 2:48 PM on February 6, 2007


Jeez..thanks for the kind comments, but I'm sure the greatest mefi comment ever is 'we have cameras.'

One other quick funny anecdote: several years later, a recruiter asked me who at DG would be a good reference. I said Tom, thinking that he'd never manage to get through Tom's cordon of privacy. Well, he did. He called me back, aghast, and said "uh, are you sure you meant to give that reference? He said that you have a real problem playing well with others." Thaaaanks Tom.
posted by felix at 2:52 PM on February 6, 2007 [5 favorites]


Well, you did cut out the teddy bear's heart, abandon him, and relegate him to the landfill...
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:57 PM on February 6, 2007


The last comment I remember being as interesting and as moving, kindall made in 2001. Thanks, felix! These are great stories.
posted by cgc373 at 3:00 PM on February 6, 2007


That was great.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:48 PM on February 6, 2007


Wow, all around, to felix and Jessamyn.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:30 PM on February 6, 2007


The Jesus Bobcat. That's freakin' perfect -- I was in a similar maelstrom back in the gogo days, in Australia, and your (beautifully written) description of Tom could have been one of our CEO, who built the company into a behemoth in few years. He anointed then wound up our little team and sent us off to explore whatever glorious mad ideas we came up with, too, as long as we could convince him they made some kind of business sense. He eventually got outed as being involved in the sale of illicit drugs in his past, back in America, and fled Oz in semi-disgrace, just as the whole house of stock-market cards was beginning to collapse. Good times, good times.

Which is to say, thanks for taking me back, and evoking it so elegantly.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:08 PM on February 6, 2007


I can't believe people still remember my "Followers of the Written Word" comment. I also can't believe it's been five and a half years since I wrote it.

(When did the My Comments page begin referring to just-made comments as "fresh"? E.g. "posted by stavrosthewonderchicken Fresh". Mmmm, fresh wonderchicken.)
posted by kindall at 5:21 PM on February 6, 2007


Well, for my part, I've been keeping the Torch of The Holy Comment aloft, kindall, linking back to it 3 or 4 times a years since. And yeah, me too: I can't believe it was going on 6 years ago now.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:24 PM on February 6, 2007


When did the My Comments page begin referring to just-made comments as "fresh"?

It's been doing that for a good long time. You see it more often if you obsessively refresh the page.
posted by cortex at 5:54 PM on February 6, 2007


That was fantastic. Thanks, felix.
posted by loquacious at 6:45 PM on February 6, 2007


Hampshire? I used to work there. I really hope Jessamyn wasn't one of the students I confiscated glass bottles from in Saga. Or worse.
posted by QIbHom at 7:48 PM on February 6, 2007


QibHom, are you Rocco Yanetti?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:55 PM on February 6, 2007


Nope. Don't know that person. I was an officer for Jim, then for Derek in, oh, 1989-90, around then. Then I worked switchboard midnights on the weekends, when I went back to MHC.
posted by QIbHom at 8:52 PM on February 6, 2007


I was an officer for Jim, then for Derek in, oh, 1989-90, around then.

Wow. I knew Derek. I worked at Special Programs and the Farm Center in summers, so I was there all the time. My only run-in with the Hampshire law was when we left a clawfoot bathtub up on the roof of Mod 95/97 (?) one Summer and they had to get a crane out to get it off.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:18 PM on February 6, 2007


Derek was a good guy. Never complained when I had to roust him out of bed at dark o'clock in the morning. The administration didn't treat him right, but, I suppose one would expect that.

I missed the bathtub. Must have been before or after my time. I probably would have helped. There are reasons Karen never trusted me...
posted by QIbHom at 9:24 PM on February 6, 2007


I've found that Jessamyn is a bit of a hero among librarians. Seriously, next time you're talking to a librarian, tell them that you know Jessamyn West. They'll get really excited.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:26 PM on February 6, 2007


felix: I came up with the ... idea of an internet-connected teddy bear that contacts a web site to tell stories.

Teddy Bear, 2.0 in today's WaPo.

Each stuffed animal comes with an identification number that gives children access to the Webkinz site. There, owners discover their pets' online personas ("I'll let you in on a secret," reads the profile of a cocker spaniel. "I love fish sticks, and I've always wanted a bunny clown.") Children can buy clothes for their pets using virtual money, outfitting them in baggy jeans or pink tutus. They can also decorate their pets' virtual rooms with such items as a stove, a boy-band poster or a bed shaped like a pirate ship.

Not quite your lazyweb Teddy Ruxpin -- more like American Girl crossed with Second Life and Neopets. But close enough it's weird I read these within hours of each other.
posted by dhartung at 2:14 AM on February 7, 2007


I'm pretty sure I read the Holy Comment via one o' those Torches, stavrosthewonderchicken, so your work has borne at least some fruit.
posted by cgc373 at 5:23 AM on February 7, 2007


Nice thread!
posted by OmieWise at 6:04 AM on February 7, 2007


jessamyn's dad is Tom West

Add me to the "holy shit! Wow!" crowd. I still have my original very-worn-out copy of Soul Of A New Machine, in a place of honor on my bookshelf next to Steven Levy's Hackers.

Felix - thanks for the awesome DG story.
posted by mrbill at 8:41 AM on February 7, 2007


Felix, very, very cool.

I was sad to see DG go -- but they all died, in the end. Somehow, after decades -- I've seen 25 years of it myself -- we ended up with Unix and Windows.

How did we screw that up so badly?

Sigh.

Anyway, /usr/games/fortune demands I post this:
I've built a better model than the one at Data General
For data bases vegetable, animal, and mineral
My OS handles CPUs with multiplexed duality;
My PL/1 compiler shows impressive functionality.
My storage system's better than magnetic core polarity,
You never have to bother checking out a bit for parity;
There isn't any reason to install non-static floor matting;
My disk drive has capacity for variable formatting.

I feel compelled to mention what I know to be a gloating point:
There's lots of room in memory for variables floating-point,
Which shows for input vegetable, animal, and mineral
I've built a better model than the one at Data General.

-- Steve Levine, "A Computer Song" (To the tune of
"Modern Major General", from "Pirates of Penzance",
by Gilbert & Sullivan)
posted by eriko at 10:39 AM on February 7, 2007


Torch of The Holy Comment

Oddly, looking at my favorited comments, my two most-favorited are that™ comment (36) and... the quonsar = ass comment I made yesterday (14). I'm not sure what that means.
posted by kindall at 12:06 PM on February 7, 2007


I find it ironic that, working in the IT dept of a museum devoted to science and industry, that the hulking mass of Data General and Clariion equipment that used to run most of the systems here is sitting in a heap in a dark corner of the place. Given it's apparent signifigance, it should be on display instead of gathering ages of spacedust.
posted by ninjew at 1:41 PM on February 7, 2007


I was sad to see DG go -- but they all died, in the end. Somehow, after decades -- I've seen 25 years of it myself -- we ended up with Unix and Windows.

How did we screw that up so badly?


To my mind, thinking that way is like despairing about the raggedness of the cosmic ejecta of the Big Bang.

Yes, there are areas of suboptimality all around. But on the macro scale, Unix and Windows and Java are just minor reverberating harmonics of an explosion that started happening when the first transistor clicked from one pole to the other. Progress is being distributed unevenly, even lumpily, but the net direction is overwhelmingly Forward.

That was one of the real problems of the dot com crash -- the punk rock look-I-can-do-magic theology of the early Internet, driven by the empowered introvert Textite cadre that kindall describes so well, was briefly eclipsed by financial tricks and marketing broadsheets.

But then people came to confuse the fact that we can do fucking magic now with the shifty dissembling of the dot com flippers.

When those guys' rhetoric died under the weight of unreal financial tricks, everyone thought that the entire stack from top to bottom was a sham and turned away in disgust. Even, I would say, a majority of the Textites -- naturally given to a certain kind of insular pessimism.

But you know what? We can still do fucking magic now.

The issue is not Vista vs. Mac vs. Ipod vs. Zune vs. blah whatever. Let the swoopy cube desktops and gaily colored soapbars of plastic fall where they may. The issue is, shall we now together proceed to create a universe of unbelievable facility and magnitude from the universe skeleton that lies before us, with the universe wrenches and universe screwdrivers that fall so easily into our hands?

Goddamn it, now I need to find a venture capitalist with a clue. Thanks a lot guys.
posted by felix at 2:32 PM on February 7, 2007 [19 favorites]


I wish I wish I wish there were some way for me to connect big money to you, felix. Dream big! Use the universe tools and get us there, man.
posted by cgc373 at 2:42 PM on February 7, 2007


To bring this topic rightfully back to Jess, an anecdote to make her embarrassed, since this apparently landed on the front page of mefi anyway.

So we're all sitting in a conference room, arguing like mad over some feature or another. Very important meeting, events have come to a head, etc. Machiavellian Guy has stood up and is stalking around the room gesticulating in his usual attempt to exert alpha guy dominance. Navy guy has checked out in his chair and is doodling on something. Finnish Theorist is interjecting baffling concepts here and there. Marketing guy is firing marketing style ideas around. Tom is at the end of the table, rocking in his chair, chewing his beard, staring at the scene in his usual incredulous way.

In comes Cindy, Tom's secretary-at-the-time, holding a printout. She goes up to Tom, hands it to him. "Yes, I've already seen this," he says. The ruckus continues. In comes Tom's consigliere, holding a printout. He comes up to Tom, hands it to him. Apparently it's the same printout. While the argument rages, Tom, Cindy and his consigliere all hold an arcane Kremlinological analysis of each word of the printout together, lasting about 30 minutes, laughing, talking, paying absolutely no attention to everything else that's going on (even though the meeting is arguably critically important).

Later, I find out that it's a Jess blog post. Not only is Tom actively reading what she's writing at a very high priority level, but his officer corps apparently thinks it's so important to him that they interrupt critical meetings to bring him the news and help him parse it out.

So yeah, I've never met Jess, but the fact of her awesomeness comes as no surprise; she was a frequent invisible guest, and a constant reference point for the web tablet and Poppet: what would Jess think of this or that feature, someone would ask Tom, and invariably the Jessosity (Jessfulism?) of the feature would augur its inclusion or elimination.
posted by felix at 2:52 PM on February 7, 2007 [4 favorites]


"Machiavellian Guy has stood up and is stalking around the room gesticulating in his usual attempt to exert alpha guy dominance."

"invariably the Jessosity (Jessfulism?) of the feature would augur its inclusion or elimination"

Jessticulation, perhaps?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:14 PM on February 7, 2007


Jessiprocity, perhaps?
posted by phaedon at 3:36 PM on February 7, 2007


Jessamyndful.
posted by felix at 3:43 PM on February 7, 2007


Jesstulence.
posted by cortex at 3:46 PM on February 7, 2007


Jessamyn - you worked at the Farm Center in the mid-90s?

My ex went to Hampshire and then was a farm intern there. I lived at the center with her when she was an intern, worked as an art model at all the colleges and at Amber Waves - the briefly lived Mid-East offshoot, but I'm having a very hard time remembering the year. Mid-90s though. My ex's name is Serena. Mostly she took care of the sheep. Ring a bell at all?
posted by serazin at 3:47 PM on February 7, 2007


I think I used to be jessamyn's dealer.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:01 PM on February 7, 2007


Not only is Tom actively reading what she's writing at a very high priority level, but his officer corps apparently thinks it's so important to him that they interrupt critical meetings to bring him the news and help him parse it out.

I really enjoy these stories. However, I feel compelled to point out how very weird it is to read them since to the best of my knowledge my Dad has never admitted to reading my blog, looking at my Flickr pictures, or engaging whatsoever in my online world. Cindy tends to keep him updated and for that I am grateful. She is amazing.

No offense to you and the bear project at all felix, but I always thought of Poppet -- and my Dad's insistence that it was a great idea, which he told me often -- as a telling statement on his whole philosophy of parenting. When men (always men) tell me how much SoaNM was formative for them, I tell them that my dad is indeed an incredible person but a little lacking in the husband/father department, at least when I was growing up.

If people take anything away from that story I'd hope that it would be equal parts appreciation and reverence for a hard project well done and some amount of distaste at the creepy work-above-all culture that plagued us during the 80s. I think a lot of my lifestyle choices now are directly related to not wanting to be a workaholic self-absorbed techie.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:11 PM on February 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


That's a good point on Poppet, and was a persistent and thoughtful criticism at the time. Certainly as a prosthetic parent replacement it would be terrible; ideally it would be a Google for Children, an adjunct on parenting. When it happens, I hope it happens better than television did.

As far as Tom's relationship with you goes, far be it from my place or my understanding to speak. I've never met you, and my relationship with Tom was mentor/apprentice. Having had an unavailable and difficult father of my own, I can only imagine how bad he could have been at the completely non-computerlike art of parenting. But allow me to take this liberty: on the basis of directly observed evidence over the course of a fairly long period of time, he's almost certainly seen everything you've ever posted to any online thing anywhere.
posted by felix at 4:58 PM on February 7, 2007


he's almost certainly seen everything you've ever posted to any online thing anywhere.

That's a chilling and entirely believable assertion. I'll watch him for signs of having read this thread.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:00 PM on February 7, 2007


Everybody's interesting, but jessamyn is way more so than most. I've always enjoyed this list of all her jobs.

This thread is pretty interesting too, although I already knew the stuff about her dad and Tracy Kidder because [namedrop] she told me so herself while I was having dinner at her place [/namedrop]. (In addition to being more than interesting, she's also more than hospitable.) I've been stuck in Vermont lately (away from the coast of Maine) a lot more than I'd like, but at least it's heartening to know jessamyn is only a few highways away.
posted by LeLiLo at 9:48 PM on February 7, 2007


I think a lot of my lifestyle choices now are directly related to not wanting to be a workaholic self-absorbed techie.

I'm sure that's true, as it is for a lot of people of our generation, if you believe the generational theory. We saw what happened when the previous band of professionals disappeared into their work, and also what happened when tech began outsourcing. It was quite clear that hard work and loyalty to a company came at an exacting price and promised no ultimate reward.
posted by Miko at 5:44 AM on February 8, 2007


That's a chilling and entirely believable assertion.

Well, I'd file it under "Qualities, Faintly Redeeming, Doting" rather than "Realizations, Awful, SkyNet, Evidence Of", but you're the librarian. :)
posted by felix at 7:16 AM on February 8, 2007


I'll be sure to file it under "Cipher, Familial, Cracking Code of" since I've always thought of doting as more of a transitive verb.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:16 AM on February 8, 2007 [2 favorites]


344.03211091734 AMIRITE?
posted by felix at 8:32 AM on February 8, 2007


344.03211091734 AMIRITE?

Vermont hospital law? Or is that some other Dewey geek inside joke?
posted by michaelbrown at 9:24 AM on February 8, 2007


Just indulging in Linnaeic absurdism.
posted by felix at 9:29 AM on February 8, 2007


Fathers are always involved, no matter how distant they seem.
posted by wheelieman at 12:16 PM on February 8, 2007


Everybody's interesting, but jessamyn is way more so than most.

Well, I just read this whole thread and now realize I am in no way interesting.
posted by absalom at 2:12 PM on February 8, 2007


Poppet in bunny form?
posted by Freen at 2:17 PM on February 8, 2007


absalom, I find your self-awareness interesting. Eh? Eh?
posted by cortex at 2:20 PM on February 8, 2007


absalom: do not make me pick photos out of your Flickr photostream to prove you wrong.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:21 PM on February 8, 2007


Poppet in bunny form?

Getting closer. Still a bit more vague than could ever make in the market, and aimed at an audience unlikely to carry around bunnies. But yeah, it's funny how much of that flash presentation I have in old folders in my garage.
posted by felix at 2:59 PM on February 8, 2007


Cute thread. Whopping great posts. Blogging par excellence.
posted by dash_slot- at 5:25 PM on February 8, 2007


this is fascinating and bizarre.

i am a real person and really friends with jessamyn. however, i do not know her father. i only know my own.
posted by sdn at 9:09 PM on February 8, 2007


I don't have much to say to this except "please don't" Feel free to troll my AskMe history for why.

All 3000 comments? Hoo, no. But I've had my Tom West fill in this thread anyway. Thanks, felix!
posted by bonaldi at 3:33 PM on February 9, 2007


Cool tech may come and go, but at least we can hope that cool people last a little longer. And keep telling stories.
posted by holgate at 9:00 AM on February 10, 2007


I would have liked to have Poppet, just for the historical significance.
posted by Liosliath at 5:13 PM on February 10, 2007


Felix, please expand that piece and publish it somewhere. You have a gift for storytelling, and a great story to tell.
posted by LarryC at 4:34 PM on February 11, 2007


I've always felt that every company needs its own Finnish Theorist.
posted by savetheclocktower at 2:46 AM on February 13, 2007


Does felix's teddy bear remind anyone of a cross between Diamond Age (A Young Girl's Illustrated Primer) and, oh I dunno, Wikipedia? Sounds like a killer idea, and absolutely implementable.

Thanks for a great post, felix!
posted by azazello at 9:57 PM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


CALL-151
300:A2 0 F0 4 20 ED FD E8 BD E 3 D0 F7
:60 CB C9 CE C4 C1 CC CC AC A0 D7 C8
:D9 A0 C4 CF A0 D9 CF D5 A0 C2 CF D4
:C8 C5 D2 A0 D2 C5 C1 C4 C9 CE C7 A0
:D4 C8 C5 8D CB C5 D9 C2 CF C1 D2 C4
:A0 D0 CF D2 D4 A0 C9 C6 A0 D9 CF D5
:A7 D2 C5 A0 CF CE CC D9 A0 C7 CF C9
:CE C7 A0 D4 CF 8D C9 C7 CE CF D2 C5
:A0 D4 C8 C5 A0 D2 C5 D3 D5 CC D4 BF 0
300G

posted by flabdablet at 3:36 PM on February 19, 2007


30E:C1 C8 A1 A0 53 50 45 41 4B 45 52
:A0 D0 CF D2 D4 AE A0 CD D9 A0 C2 C1
:C4 AE 0 N300G

posted by flabdablet at 3:57 PM on February 19, 2007


Certainly as a prosthetic parent replacement it would be terrible; ideally it would be a Google for Children, an adjunct on parenting.

Wait, didn't I see this in a movie? And read about it in a PKD story? :)
posted by mwhybark at 1:49 PM on February 23, 2007


Did PKD write one of those? I know IA did.
posted by flabdablet at 5:47 AM on February 25, 2007


My dopery. I was thinking of
Brian Aldiss'
Teddy.
posted by mwhybark at 8:05 PM on February 28, 2007


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