Dear Customers and Friends,
O'Reilly editor in chief Frank Willison suffered a heart attack and died the morning of July 30th. This is a tragedy.
Of all of us at O'Reilly, Frank is the one we'd most have imagined growing old and grandfatherly, dispensing to successive generations the wisdom, humor and caring that he shared with all of us. He is (I use the present tense deliberately) one of those people who is an inspiration to us all, someone who demonstrates convincingly how to be a wonderful human being.
In times like these, I find comfort in a passage from Wallace Stevens:
The passing of our heroes (and Frank was one of my heroes and mentors, as I'm sure he was for so many of you as well) reinforces in us the knowledge that what matters is not the time or manner of our passing, but the way we lived. Frank lived in a way we would all be proud to live; I'm sure he continues on to his next adventure with the same light and curious touch.
We will all miss Frank very painfully in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. But what he gave to each of us will remain as part of the treasure each of us stores up in our life, and hopefully passes on to those around us, as Frank was so ready to do.
In parting, I'd like to share two things with you. The first is a collection of fragments from Frank's emails and columns. His writing was anticipated and collected by O'Reilly employees because of the wit, wisdom, humor, and humanity he wrote with. O'Reilly PR director Lisa Mann kept the file these come from. Around the company the file was known as "The Best of Frank."
Secondly, O'Reilly CTO Jon Orwant put together a memorial Web site where people can share their favorite memories of Frank. I encourage you to do so if you've got something to share.
Go well, Frank. --Tim
The Best of Frank
On MP3 Filesharing
Kevin Bingham wrote: "Hold on. Haven't I read somewhere that a large percentage of Napsterites (can I say that?) are over 30?"
Frank wrote: "You're thinking of nappers. I listen to loud music all the time: Tower of Power, Little Feat, Van Morrison, and Paul Butterfield all sound great loud. I like that boom boom boom boom--it provides sensation for the lower half of my body in a healthful and socially acceptable form. But the boom boom boom boom has to be crisp; it can't be muddy (that is, I don't want boowhoom boowhoom). If Rocco Prestia is going to play 400 bass notes a second, I want to hear each one. MP3 doesn't quite deliver yet."
"On the airplane trip out, I began reading Acts of the Apostles, by John F.X. Sundman. I got hooked and found myself sneaking away from BOFs to finish it. It is a techno-thriller, not high literature. The women in it are brilliant, ambitious, mostly amoral, and (surprise!) knock-down gorgeous. John manages to weave a lot of technology into the book at a breathless pace. But I'm not a big fan of technology in fiction, so I wouldn't recommend it for that reason. I am, on the other hand, a Sixties-style paranoid and a conspiracy buff, and I have to say that this book would easily win the World Series of Paranoia. Read it and you'll never think about genomes or nanomachines without a bit of a spinal chill."
On the Other Hand...
"As for the larger question of whether our books are suitable for learning how to program: I was first going to contradict what 'the publisher' said in his article, but then I noticed that he was quoting me. I quickly changed my strategy."
On the French
"And the Europeans accept chaos and know how to live with it. I came away from France believing in the strong faith of the French people, not because of their magnificent cathedrals, but because I saw them drive around L'Arc du Triomphe. As they careened around this monument in vehicles that were little more than motorized Altoid containers, they looked like a network run by Linux servers: little packets hurtling within inches of each other, traveling together for a time, separated by other packets coming from other sources, reassembling as they sped out of the circle and onto the Champs Élysées. It's no surprise to me that much of the interest in IPv6 is coming from France--if they don't understand delay-sensitive traffic in France, they understand it nowhere."
Late at Night
"Late at night, in the privacy of my home, while my family sleeps peacefully unawares, I make lists of weak areas for us. I define them differently each time: areas where we don't publish and ought to; topics for which we've signed many different authors but never got a completed book; areas where we have conspicuous and obvious gaps in an otherwise admirable program. Mostly, though, I use the definition you suggest: books that need to be updated and haven't been. I furrow my brow for some minutes; then I rip up the list, feed it to the dog, and go back to bed."
"It's difficult to exhort employees to Discipline and Self-Control when you know they call you Bowlhead behind your back."
On Saab Drivers
"As I rounded the next corner, I met up with a Saab traveling at great speed toward me. I was going in the proper direction on a one-way street, but the Saab was obeying another Massachusetts Driving Rule: You can go the wrong way on a one-way street if you do so in reverse. (Saabs are good for this: I believe they have more than one reverse gear.)
"I was between this Saab driver and a parking space. He was, I suspect, a Nietzchean (like most Saab drivers), and he believed, as Nietzche taught us, 'God is dead; so find your own parking space.' Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no liberals in prime parking areas. I swerved and avoided him. He parked. I hope he didn't know I was there because he drove as if he didn't."
Bicycles That Pass in the Night
"A young, fit, female cyclist passed me at great speed on Carlton Street. I grumbled for a moment, but then I got a whiff of a pleasant floral scent, its heaviness cut by an undertone of citrus. This cyclist was wearing perfume! I was in love. I watched her disappear in the next block, but she left behind a beautiful but fading olfactory trail. I considered stalking her, but, quite frankly, I lacked the tone."
"I believe that investing is, basically, morally wrong; but Computer Aided Investing is so wrong that it bears the personal stamp of Satan."
And More on Investing
"This sort of superficial, short-term success is common to those who've cut a bargain with Old Nick. Look at Ted Turner, Ted Bundy, and Faust. Ultimately, though, you end up married to Jane Fonda and wondering where you've gone wrong. But by then it's Too Late. Invest in some asbestos sandals.
"Let This Be a Lesson to You."
Man vs. Squirrel
"This morning, the ever-vigilant Boston Herald reported that, on the Riverway, right on my commuting route, a motorist had been attacked by a squirrel, which had leapt out of a tree, through her open sunroof, and onto her head. (Throwing off journalistic restraints, the Herald ran a front-page teaser: 'Psycho Squirrel: crazed critter drops in on pregnant driver.') If this attack was a harbinger of a larger Emerald-Necklace rodent uprising, how much more attractive would I be, with my large reflective head and hunched-over, fully-exposed back, traveling at the speed of easy prey? In spite of these worries, I pressed ahead. God gave Man dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth, and I wasn't going to be the guy who gave it back because of one psycho squirrel."
"But will a PDA have sufficient self-esteem to feel okay about asking directions? Will cell phones have the social skills necessary to rebuff the bogus location requests of a randy PDA? Will there be wireless access to Miss Manners? Why do I feel that, when devices are able to talk to each other, they'll prefer that activity to taking care of *my* needs? Who's paying the bills here?"
On Passive-Aggressive Behavior
"Part of the problem is passive-aggressive behavior, my pet peeve and bête noire, and I don't like it either. Everyone should get off their high horse, particularly if that horse is my bête noire. We all have pressures on us, and nobody's pressure is more important than anyone else's."
On Cakes and Diets
"Did everyone note that Hungry Minds controls both Betty Crocker and Weight Watchers Press? It's not only the minds which hunger; you can have your cake, but you can't eat it."
On What Makes a Good Proposal
"You have to like a proposal that quotes populist poetry from the Soul of Scotland."
On What Makes a Bad Proposal
"They opened up the Nutshell, and lo, there was no nutmeat. So they said, 'This too will pass.' And that's what we should do on this one: pass."
"Nobody has replied to this proposal. I will offer a comment: I would rather drink muddy water and sleep in a holler log."
On Alliteration in Titles
"We are not working on a Programming Perl for the Palm Pilot book: too many initial Ps. It would make for an unsanitary cover over time."
On Relatively Suited Authors
"No faroukhin' way are we going to hire a cowardly weakling who did the pusillanimous dumbass website at www.___.com! Especially not one who uses so many exclamation points! Let him try to write a book! I'll snap his useless jockstrap!"
"Let's pass on this fellow. He's only 'relatively suited' anyway, he says."
"I may well be a fartist, Nat, but I am not old."
On Being Sued
"I get no respect. I can't even be threatened by normal people. Check out www.___.com. They sell books like Sex Diary of a Metaphysician and Amazing Dope Tales. Why can't I be threatened by a decent professional publisher?
"I think you read a page, rip it out, fill it with grass, roll it up, and smoke it. It's a 2-for-1 sale."
On Lending Books
"Thanks also for not lending others your O'Reilly books. Let others buy them. Buyers respect their books. You seem to recognize that 'lend' and 'lose' are synonyms where books are concerned. If I had been prudent like you, I would still have Volume 3 (Cats - Dorc) of the Encyclopedia Britannica."
On Grammar and Copyeditors
"Nobody knows the language like those who correct others' peccadilo's, uh, peckadilloes, mmm, peccadildos, aah, forget it: mistakes all day."
"How do these people know what's going on in their homes and neighborhoods all day? For all they know, their houses are being used by drug dealers, spies, or clever urban raccoons. Delivery men might notice such unauthorized activity I would support legislation requiring some percentage of the residents of a neighborhood to stay home. People might remember why they have homes in the first place."
On Dry Cleaning
"I would certainly also support a return to the practice of wearing clean clothes to work and out in public. I hope that dry-cleaning experiences a renaissance and the era of Ratso Rizzo Casual Days at work is coming to end. If cleanliness is next to godliness, then dry-cleaning, after all, is practically a sacrament."
"Thank you for your strong endorsement of our publishing plans. We often say such things to ourselves, but when we hear our customers say them, we're more certain that we're not delusional."
On The End of the World, and Yes, It's Nigh
"Partway through Elliotte Rusty Harold's talk about namespaces, I realized where this relentless drive toward abstraction was taking us. Every new level of abstraction draws the computer-based world closer to the concepts we talk about in the real world. We've moved from waves to bits to data to information to infosets to application objects. As this process continues, some ambitious Comp Sci graduate student will realize that somebody already created the tree structure mapping the highest level of reality. That person was, of course, G. W. F. Hegel. Hegel's dialectic led him to create a map of reality that, at the top of the tree structure, divided everything into either the material or the spiritual realm. That dichotomy was resolved in God, and, my friends, that's about as far as you can go.
"That ambitious Comp Sci grad student, eager to get his Ph.D. and begin making real money, will create The Two Final Infosets: MatterML and SpiritML. Then, late one night, as rain falls in torrents and lightning flashes outside his laboratory windows, he'll run XSLT to transform the material world to the spiritual world. We'll be gone. The last material object on earth will be that graduate student's open copy of XML in a Nutshell. It makes an editor in chief proud, in a perverse kind of way."
On First Person Singular Possessive Pronouns
"You know what I hate? It's all the 'My' stuff these days. Hailstorm has MyProfile, MyNotifications, MyContacts (I lose them all the time), MyWallet, MyUsage. . . Please! I'm not a three year-old or a Jack Russell Terrier. I'm not mesmerized by the first person singular possessive pronoun. I know that if it's in Hailstorm it's not mine; Microsoft has it and charges me to use it. I'm old-fashioned; I keep MyWallet in MyPants, next to MyAss. And guess what you can do, MyCrosoft?"
"What is it about Linux internals and Italy? I thought it was wine, women, and song over there; now it's kernel, stack, and drivers. Is tomorrow's Giancarlo Giannini romancing a motherboard today?"
On Adult Language
"Curl ain't no Flash, at least not yet. (I never thought I would as an adult write a phrase like 'Curl ain't no Flash.' What could it possibly mean?)"
On Perl Evangelists
"One word of warning: if you meet a bunch of Perl programmers on the bus or something, don't look them in the eye. They've been known to try to convert the young into Perl monks."
"This particular ruling is especially disheartening because Gone with the Wind is, of all books, most deserving of a parody. Its unbelievable tale of Reconstruction in the South has done more harm than people know. . . . Parody plays an important role in the development and understanding of a culture. Making its expression less important than the property rights of the estate of a dead author is not just an intellectual property problem: It's the death of our culture and the beginning of the end of democracy and free speech. And I don't like Clark Gable, either."
"I'd like to erect a big arena in the Silicon Valley where McNealy and Ballmer and Gates and Ellison and Case can don gladiator (or gladiolus) gear and just hammer each other the livelong day. There's not one of them you can trust, either advocating an idea or refuting the ideas of others. While McNealy criticizes Microsoft, I guarantee he's figuring out how to do something similar to steal the same money. Nothing is worse that a monopolist except for a frustrated, failed monopolist. A pox on the lot of them."
On Summer Vacations
"Don't spend the whole summer inside writing code. You have your whole miserable adult life to do that. I'm forty years older than you are, and I spend all my waking hours typing on a silly computer, answering emails from people I don't know. If I hadn't spent my teenage summers at the community pool flirting with Sue Jenkins (what a babe!), I'd be a miserable old goat now. Plan to have some fun this summer, in person. Note that 'internship' and 'internment camp' both start with 'intern.'"
On Thinking Inside the Box
"This discussion reminds me of a former co-worker of mine (in a school). Whenever she would argue with anyone, she would eventually say, 'A mind is like a parachute--it only functions when open.' Of course, it was the other person's mind that was always closed.
"What I told her, though, was: A mind is like a parachute--you should open it only in certain very specific life-threatening situations. And of course that's true--if every aviator walked around with an open parachute, then flying would be as much of a mess as . . . well, as it currently is.
"Same's true with the box. Why is there a box? Because it holds things together. It has a function. If you never think inside the box, cut up the box. Think outside the box when the box is too confining, when it's not doing its useful job of keeping things organized.
"Also, just like the question of who has an open mind, the interesting question is who gets to decide what 'in the box' means in a particular instance. That tells you more than the comment itself does.
"Maybe I'm sensitive to this issue because O'Reilly & Associates has lots of people thinking outside the box, and part of my job is to package things. I'm always running around, saying, "Hey! You! Where do you think you're going? Get back in that box!"
On Birthday Celebrations
"These birthdays are unacceptable. It is corporate policy that all employee birthdays fall on weekends each year, with no more than one birthday per day. Please fill out the Employee Birthday Request Form and submit it to your manager by April 1 of the preceding year. No unauthorized birthdays are to be celebrated."
On Hardware Demos
"People who believe demos probably go to Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies and say, 'Golly, look how well they dance together, and they just met!'"
On Desk Fountains as Xmas Gifts
"They were meant to reduce stress, but I think they make people want to take a leak all the time. What could be more stressful than that?"
On New Year's Driving
"My father, a man who enjoyed the Pleasures of Drink, called New Year's Eve 'Amateur Night' and taught us all to stay off the road, preferably on the second floor of a secure dwelling, from the 30th of December through the 1st of January. I'll be breaking that rule this year, and in a rental vehicle to boot. Light a candle for me, and with the help of God, I'll see all of you in 1996."
On a 'New' Fenway Park
"I've just voted. Public funding is currently winning, almost certainly because of heavily subsidized voting by a foul coalition of out-of-state bankers, cynical real estate moguls, and partisan building trade organizations. True baseball fans, unmoved by greed, must vote to counter this pack of wolves.
"Of course, whichever way you vote is your business. Not trying to influence in any way, etc., etc.
On Water Quality
>Fire Hydrant Testing - April 29-May 10: Inman Square and Sherman Street
"These guys. Disturbing sediment does not make water 'appear rust colored.' That's a double obfuscation. It makes water rusty. The water *is* rust-colored (obfuscationtion #1) and it is that color because it contains *actual rust* (obfuscation #2).
"The O'Reilly book on the subject (Using and Managing Cambridge Water) would have said:
"Don't use the water for 24 hours after Cambridge tests fire hydrants in your neighborhood. If you do, you will get rust in your teeth and on your nice Gap clothes. As a workaround, drink bottled water and do your laundry in Brighton."
"I had a dream last night.
"We were all on an island. Everything on that island was collapsing, and we had to abandon it immediately. We had a plane to take us to the mainland, but it couldn't land, and we had no parachutes.
"My plan was for the plane to fly slowly and as low as possible, and we would all jump out.
"As we took off, to cheer everyone up, I said, 'Don't worry; we'll redo the master schedule after we see who survives.'"
On Claymation Christmas
"Not in my most cynical, sarcastic, misanthropic moment could I have perversely imagined suggesting a claymation version of the Gospel. Nathaniel West would never have written 'Day of the Locust'.
"And as if the idea weren't cynical enough, they've cast Ralph Filenes as Jesus' voice and Miranda Richardson as Mary Magdalene.
"There are not enough edible roots on the planet to allow these malefactors to pay their debt to society."
On Deepak Chopra
"This feeble, bourgeois paganism is the worst. Who would have thought that people would want paganism only if the fun is removed? No running through the woods naked, no polyrhythmic drumming. No selling your soul for eternal life; you'll get eternal life simply by living healthily. If you don't ever do anything wrong, you won't die. Sure.
"Keep Chopra; I'll take Beelzebub."
"Don't be fooled by my boyish good looks. As of yesterday, I have been happily married (to *one* woman!) (uh, Meg, that is) for twenty years.
"So I'm taking tomorrow off to reacquaint her with me."
On Dom's Departure
"Dom, the one essential man we hoped would leave us never
"Dom, it's heartless now to leave us suff'ring without pity,
"Though he wished it otherwise, his calendars were humor,
"Going now to Walnut Creek (We don't know where that is, Dom),
"So that's where all the intelligence went!
"If you hear from any good editors, let me know; I'll let them work remotely."
On "Animal House"
"This film is a seering, angry metaphorical exploration of societal dissolution brought about by the conflict between marginalized citizens and an oppressive central authority. And they throw jello, too.
"To help viewers develop strong identification with the oppressed class in this movie, the LAVA Tripartite Commission (Linda Mui, Valerie Quercia, and Frank Willison) urge all employees to wear togas* to this event. (Those familiar with the film will remember that a toga party represents a key turning point.) We have alerted Bed, Bath, and Bacchanalia to have plenty of sheets for sale in their Cambridge and Fenway stores. (Ms. Quercia recommends the purchase of a flat sheet. 'Fitted' in the context of bedsheets does not indicate a more flattering cut when worn.)
"* Togas, in O'Reilly parlance, are officially called 'business casual.'
"We're looking for a volunteer to teach toga-tying tomorrow. Let's not let accidents spoil office camaraderie."
On Ridding the Office of Mice
"Read the following Robert Burns poem loudly. It's universally hated in the small rodent community. The mouse will leave out of principle."
To a Mouse
Wee sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
I'm truly sorry man's dominion
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve:
Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
Thou saw the fields laid bare an waste,
That wee bit heap o leaves an stibble,
But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
Still thou art blest, compar'd wi me!
On the Anarchist Cookbook
"I just went to Amazon to check up on The Anarchist Cookbook, having just mentioned it in a recent email to all of you. It was published in 1970 and was a very inflammatory document; it had a lot of cachet among radicals on campus, but it was a truly practical and therefore very scary manual of violent acts.
"I urge you to go the the Amazon page and read the author's poignant comments there. He says that he wrote the book in anger, at the age of 19 and in the midst of the Viet Nam War, and has come to regret it. He has tried several times to take the book out of print, but the original publisher (Lyle Stuart) and the publisher to which the book was then sold (Barricade Books, for crying out loud) have refused. As you'll be able to see by the comments, his book is favored now by people of the survivalist school, not his intention at all. It's a sad commentary; nobody should be plagued into his middle age by the crackpot ideas he espoused at 19."
Proposed Perl Book Titles
"Enough Perl Already!
"No Mas Perl
On the New Yorker Magazine
"James Calamera told me that someone from the New Yorker wanted to talk to me about O'Reilly's publishing plans. I bought myself a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, a bow tie, and cordovan Weejuns and called him. (His name was Pillsbury--you know he's old money.)"
On a Marketing Line for Java and XML (after we'd discovered a badly placed apostrophe on a blow-in card)
"Java and XML: Ask Someone Who Know's
"Ask someone; who knows?
"I'll work on it some more."
On Learning Java
"Here is a sample from my upcoming book, a series of tutorial sonnets entitled Learn Java in 14 Lines!:
"Alas! I Married a Java Applet!
"My parents pled with ardent supplication,
On .Net and Conflict of Interest
"Anyone who gives private and financial information willingly to Microsoft should just cash out their accounts and play three-card monte instead; it will be more fun, their cash will last longer, and, after all their money is gone, those con artists will leave them alone."
On That Other Email Account
"Please excuse this email from a non-O'Reilly account. I keep this account for radical politics and pornography. And I had to come home before completing my email because--why was it again? Oh, right; this is where my family is."
>We're not interested in a book on Waba by itself.
"I absolutely agree with Mike. Waba by itself has no rhythm. I am proposing a book combining a number of hot new technologies. It's called: Waba Java Wiki Tcl.
"That's a book you can chant in bars. Can't say it five times fast, no more beers for you."
On Aliens (re: Beyond Contact)
"Our extraterrestrial brothers and sisters (assuming biological reproduction) applaud (assuming they have hands) this development.
"One does worry about relying on an author who doesn't yet know how to pilot planes, but is doing so nevertheless. One hopes that God is his co-pilot, and He is paying attention."
"I love troff. It reminds me of runoff, which reminds me of my youth, when VMS was in flower and knowledge of EDT and runoff was all a lad needed to make a good living as a tech writer."
"Take it easy, Bro."
On Hailstorm and Bill Paying
"Here's the other part of Hailstorm-type services that I don't get. I have cable, and when I don't pay my bill, they deny me TV shows. What if I don't pay my Microsoft bill? They have everything of mine: my contacts, calendar, documents, cellphone caller IDs, relationships... they have my business and my personal life. What if we have a dispute? How can I afford to argue with them?
"It's not even like when you don't pay your rent and they put your furniture on the sidewalk. They *keep* your furniture. If it's my data, I want it in my house on something I own.
"(Don't get the wrong idea; except for cable, I pay my bills. I know about the furniture thing from the movies.)"
On Email Over the Weekend
"A while ago, I suggested that we refrain from sending email over the weekend, so that people didn't feel that they had to check their email several times a day, every day, to stay abreast of current events. That didn't seem to catch on as an idea, so I suggested instead that we don't reply to email over the weekend, so that ideas didn't advance, issues didn't get resolved, and directions didn't get set until everyone had a chance to join in. That seems not to have caught everyone's imagination either.
"For those who have shown restraint over the weekend and regretted it, I now suggest that you participate as you feel is appropriate."
On Cloning Frank
>I'd describe him in more detail for you, but you likely
"Impossible. That renders a null set."
"One of my health principles is: keep your body guessing. If you constantly change what you're doing, serious maladies can't build up an infrastructure. That's why I smoke a couple of cigarettes a week. It leads the body to think you're a smoker, but when the germs set up to attack your lungs, you go out for a jog instead. It foils the germs and leaves them dispirited."
On the Editor's Group
"In honor of e-business, I'm changing the name of my group to e-ditorsdotcom and I'm taking it public. I know that I'm 30 years too old to be the CEO, but I'm hiring a 20-year-old thespian to play the role until after the IPO. You know, I'll be a sort of Cyrano d' Entrepreneur."
"Editor, edit thyself, I always say."