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Jerry Pournelle has died (wikipedia.org)
322 points by davidw 16 days ago | hide | past | web | 148 comments | favorite



I got to meet Jerry when I was going to USC, he had sent out a request for an intern to "help him with all this junk" and for what ever reason he decided I was the guy. I would go over to his house and help him sort through the piles of stuff people would send in the hope that he would mention them in his column in BYTE. I showed up in the column a couple of times, Jerry and I got into a long and spirited discussion of 'terminals' versus TV Typewriters. He had a big CP/M machine with a television screen that he used for writing (20 lines of 64 characters as I recall) and I set up and evaluated the Heathkit Z29 (which was a slick detached keyboard terminal at the time). While there were fewer characters on the screen on TV Typewriter, updates were very very fast (since it was just memory mapped). I liked that there were more characters on the terminal. But Jerry's main argument in favor was that he kept most of his writing in his head, and the screen was just there to remind him where he was, and in that mode speed won hands down. He signed my copy of Footfall with "I have another pile of software for you."

Goodbye Jerry.


I had lunch with Jerry at DragonCon this past weekend and he was enjoying himself. He was using a walker but only when necessary. He told some of the same stories I heard at Space Access but they were still enjoyable because they were his. Because he was there. I'm going to cherish that memory forever.

Rest in peace, Dr. Pournelle. We will carry on with the fight.


I heard that that was pretty cool and was bummed I didn't get to track him down this year. Now I won't--I'm sad about that, but hey, his work speaks for itself.


I also remember him well from Space Access. Seems to me that one can draw line directly from his advocacy for the DC-X, through Armadillo & company, to SpaceX and Blue Origin's spectacular accomplishments.

He planted one hell of a seed there. The world owes him one.


In his 80s columns he wrote (roughly, by my memory) that by the turn of the millennium you'd be able to go to your computer and ask any question with a publically known answer, and get it back right away. I thought that was ridiculous, and today you can quibble, but basically yes, you can, and he was right on the money on the timing. That was an audacious prediction back then.

He influenced me the most by his columns on space development (A Step Farther Out, and a couple of anthologies The Endless Frontier). I don't clearly remember what was in them, but there was a kind of can-do attitude about developing technological civilization in a strategic way that seems more in tune with the 60s than anything happening now.


For anyone who's first computer interaction was a microcomp like the C64, sure. But i suspect that for anyone that had spent time with mainframe/minicomp terminals, particularly those attached to the Arpanet, it may not have seemed as such a far fetched claim.

Never mind that France rolled out Minitel back then, and similar systems were also deployed elsewhere in the world.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minitel#Minitel_in_other_count...


I had a networked account in the later 80s. I also read Ted Nelson (Literary Machines) and Eric Drexler (http://e-drexler.com/d/06/00/EOC/EOC_Chapter_14.html) predicting something like the web but in important ways better -- there are ideas there worth returning to for today's fights about "fake news" and open-access science. Drexler was right about the timing, too.

Those guys were on the futuristic fringe, but their ideas looked good to me. So why didn't I believe Pournelle? I was like, sure, someday, but his scenario seemed practically AI-complete. I did not foresee it coming so soon out of a little bit of the right sort of natural language processing plus some great engineering.

I'm sure there were people with a better imagination! But hindsight really is way too easy.


In the late 90's he did a review of a video card for Linux that allowed dual monitors. This was an article in Byte magazine and dual monitor setups for Linux were hot shit back then.

I wrote him because I was having trouble getting it to work with XWindows and he actually wrote me back with some tips to get it working. Don't remember the name of the video card, but I'm sure I have that email around somewhere...

I really appreciated it and remember thinking how special it was to get a personal response from a writer at Byte.

Good bye Jerry.


Would not surprise me if it was a Matrox card of some kind, i think they offered multi-monitor cards for desktops quite early.


And they were one of the few cards with excellent Linux drivers.


I loved Chaos Manor as a teen. Having yet to even own a computer I was amazed at everything Jerry was doing with his. I'd then dream of all the amazing things I'd do with mine when I got my own computer. I really miss those early days of personal computing.


Jerry WAS likely the first published professional writer to use a computer to create book length works. I read his articles through the 1980's. I still remember seeing his S-100 writing system at the Smithsonian Museum

And while it would be too much of a stretch to say that his printed "Chaos Manor" articles in Byte were the first Blog, there is no doubt that many of the first bloggers where highly inspired by his style of journaling.

He deserves Hacker News' black banner

- Real Soon Now


> Jerry WAS likely the first published professional writer to use a computer to create book length works.

'Using personal or micro computers'. There are some examples that pre-date your reference:

http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=3701


There's a great interview with him from Leo Laporte not to long ago (2013) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7j3IG4h42Y&list=UUWoyADQ1Ri... Loved his writings when I was young (and still do), chaos manor along with Steve Ciarcia were always the first sections I went to in Byte.


Same same. Other than copy some code mainly read that column later.


I grew up on his sci-fi books. The Mote in God's Eye, to me, is the best science fiction I've ever read.

Lucifer's Hammer was way up there and hit close to home (being in California and all).


Robert A. Heinlein, who gave the authors extensive advice on the novel,[2] described the story as "possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read." https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mote_in_God%27s_Eye


His sci-fi and computer skill were renowned. The world will be a lesser place with out him.


More than his skill I'd argue his enthusiasm and apparently boundless passion for these things was the brighest part of his persona. There might be better programmers and better writers, but he's always been one of the best at making what he loved seem fun, interesting, and worth taking up as a career.

Science fiction may have lost another great, but I'd bet he inspired many writers in his time.


I still use the phrase "On The Gripping Hand..." for ternary expressions in English.

Thanks Jerry.


Ditto, although usually I turn it around to argue for my first option. Such a great phrase.


What a shame...

I came to his computer work quite late (mid-2000s), learning of him via his appearances in the This Week in Tech podcast. But then I realised he was the author of Lucifer's Hammer and other classic sci-fi.

He was a great writer and seemed like a great person. Amazing anecdotes. I'm completely opposed to him politically, but I still read his blog every day even as it veered more and more towards politics. He helped me break out of my filter bubble, and showed me the variety of conservative thought.

RIP Dr Pournelle.


There were times when he could be a real jerk:

"How Jerry Pournelle got kicked off the ARPANET" http://www.stormtiger.org/bob/humor/pournell/story.html

However, I enjoyed his writings, both SF and his column in BYTE. Rest in peace, Mr. Pournelle.


I don't think he's the one that comes off as a jerk in that thread. Of course that's with decades of hindsight but here we are on 'ARPANET' and we can talk about it freely. Think of him as slightly ahead of his time.


He was so far ahead of his time, he would be working for the Trump administration if he were younger. They would have loved his enthusiasm for social darwinism. "Think of it as evolution in action." -POURNE

http://www.independent.com/news/2017/mar/23/trump-making-soc...

"By cannibalizing expanded Medicaid coverage to the tune of $880 billion, Trump and the Republicans can justify massive tax cuts for a group who needs them the least, the very wealthy and reasonably healthy. [...] Trump and the Republicans have seized upon a much bolder solution: Cut costs by making health care accessible to those who need it least ​— ​the young, healthy, and rich."

https://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/trump-is-the-candi...

"So what do I do? I agree with nearly everything he is for, but I’m better qualified to make it happen. I avoid some issues, but I go for his most popular ones and say, yeah! Want that! And I can make it happen better than he can. I’ve got the experience of working in government, but I’m not the establishment any more than Mr. Trump is. Heck, I’ll offer him a cabinet post. I could use his energy in my administration." -POURNE

http://voxday.blogspot.nl/2016/04/jerry-pournelle-on-donald-...

"But he has never wavered on his desire to fill the Supreme Court with Justices as near in scholarship and view to Scalia as possible; that alone would be enough to get me to the polls for Trump if he’s nominated." -POURNE

"One thing that is known about ARPA: you can be heaved off it for supporting the policies of the Department of Defense. Of course that was intended to anger me. If you have an ARPA account, please tell CSTACY that he was successful; now let us see if my Pentagon friends can upset him. Or perhaps some reporter friends. Or both., Or even the House Armed Services Committee." -POURNE

"The man has learned nothing from his presence on MC and sets a bad example of what people might potentially accomplish there. I'd rather recycle his account for some bright 12-yr-old...)" -KMP


> Pournelle claims that he heard at a science fiction convention that you (chris) had said that the real reason his account was flushed was that ``he (pournelle) is a fascist.'' Given the current political climate, this could raise some sort of ruckus, so it would probably be good to nip this in the bud.

Nice to know the internet hasn't changed that much.


I wonder if this is the first instance of politically motivated mobbing behavior to take place over a digital communications medium? In which case, it is an important historical document in its own right. It has the same structure as modern digital witch-hunts:

1) A group of individuals apparently incensed at some minor infarction by their target.

2) It is not entirely clear why the behavior of their target is wrong, or why it should merit excommunication.

3) The group displays incongruous rage at their target given the apparent wrongdoing, using terms that focus on the target's character rather than the nature of his putative wrongdoing.

4) Certain members of the group are unable to contain themselves and let slip references to the real source of their rage.

5) The expulsion is done by a minor player who does not necessarily take part in the discussion.

6) The summary reason given for the expulsion is different from, and even contradicts the original issue.

R.I.P Jerry Pournelle. Fearless, and always first into the fray.


> I wonder if this is the first instance of politically motivated mobbing behavior to take place over a digital communications medium?

It was not politically motivated (I am in that thread from 1985). Pournelle was a pain in the neck when drunk. And a blowhard (which is hardly a crime, but doesn't make people sympathetic when you call them assholes and then tell them to do things for you).

As for the proxmiring: he was one of the common offenders; he loved to talk archly about how he was part of the insider elite, while claiming that that was proof of his democratic ideals.

FWIW I did read some of his novels.


The real reason POURNE was so unpopular with the people running the MIT-AI Lab during the 1980's had to do with the fact that he was a belligerent alcoholic who acted entitled to the free computer services and expert advice that he was taking for granted and criticizing, rather than his politics.

In spite of the fact that many of those people who he accused of being "communists" went far out of their way to spend their precious time patiently answering his questions, tutoring and helping him (RMS even personally wrote some free software for him at his request -- how communist is that??!):

https://www.jerrypournelle.com/reviews/bookmonth.html

>"I first met Richard Stallman (he called himself RMS in those days) when he was a graduate student at MIT and I was just learning about the ARPANET. He was immensely helpful to me in those days, patiently showing me things about emacs — his full-screen editor that he wrote in TECO, and the less said about TECO the better — as well as adding some special code to take care of things I wanted to accomplish. I learned then that RMS and I have a common failing: We don't suffer fools gladly or indeed at all, and we are sometimes wrong about who is a fool. But that's another story for another time."

But POURNE certainly threatened to use his political connections as a weapon against them. POURNE is the one who made his own politics an issue, who told John McCarthy (the computer scientist, not Joseph the commie witch hunter) that he thought MIT was run by a bunch of communists, and who posted ranting threats on BIX.

Re-read the sputtering mis-punctuated threatening screed he posted to BIX, and decide for yourself if you think he was drunk, or if he just acted that way all the time purely because of his political beliefs:

    One thing that is known about ARPA: you can be heaved off it
    for supporting the policies of the Department of Defense.
    Of course that was intended to anger me.  If you have an
    ARPA account, please tell CSTACY that he was successful;
    now let us see if my Pentagon friends can upset him. Or
    perhaps some reporter friends.  Or both.,  Or even 
    the House Armed Services Committee.
It was widely known in the SF fandom community that Jerry Pournelle was an alcoholic during the 1980's, because he was always drunk, loud and and obnoxious at science fiction conventions, which a lot of MIT-AI lab members and turists attended and witnessed first-hand.

http://newsgroups.derkeiler.com/Archive/Rec/rec.arts.sf.writ...


I love that excerpt since it was classic Pournelle: included a nice extra bit of detail that showed he was "in the know" yet was not actually true (RMS was never a grad student). He used to boast he was part of Reagan's "Kitchen Cabinet" of space advisors, and talked about their EOB meetings -- but i knew folks on the NSC technical advisory committee and it was nothing like he described.

I never let on that the person he "knew" online and the person he knew offline were the same me.


Your misinterpretation of the events is way off base. It's usually the person accusing others of being communists who's on the witch hunt.

I don't remember if the official MIT AI Lab Tourist Policy was written down at the time POURNE was flushed, of if he agreed to it and signed it like the rest of us tourists did, but it's pretty clear he violated it with his anti-social behavior and bad attitude, he took advantage of the MIT AI Lab for his profit making enterprise BYTE Magazine, promoted his books on SF-LOVERS, he never hesitated to espouse his political beliefs, and he threaten to exploit his political connections for revenge. So flushing him was completely justified, regardless of his politics.

http://www.art.net/~hopkins/Don/text/tourist-policy.html

>"A tourist sponsored by a laboratory member would generally receive some guidance and tutelage concerning acceptable behavior, proper design techniques for hardware and software, proper programming techniques, etc. The expectation on the laboratories' part was that a large percentage would become educated in the use of the advanced computing techniques developed and used in our laboratories and thereby greatly facilitate the technology transfer process. A second expectation was that some percentage would become interested and expert enough to contribute significantly to our research efforts."

>"13. Any use of the MIT ITS machines for personal gain, profit making enterprise, or political purposes is not a legitimate use of the Laboratories' computer resources."

>"14. These specific statements of policy give a minimum of how a tourist ought to behave to be a responsible user on the MIT ITS system. They are not a complete list of all the ways tourists should or should not behave. Just because some particular anti-social behavior is not listed does not mean that it is acceptable. What a tourist should do is cultivate a good attitude: make a positive effort to anticipate and avoid actions that would interfere with other users. If you cannot tell whether a certain course of action can interfere with any one, find out from someone else before trying it."

When KMP said "The man has learned nothing from his presence on MC and sets a bad example of what people might potentially accomplish there. I'd rather recycle his account for some bright 12-yr-old...)" he could have been referring to good tourists like Rob Griffith:

https://archive.org/details/getlamp-rgriffiths

"I believe on one trip we were touring the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, and we saw some people gathered around this terminal. And we inquired what they were doing, and out of that came this game Zork, and my friend, since he was at MIT, had us get an account, and we were able to log in and figure out what to me looked like an extremely arcane set of commands to actually get this game running. From then on we were pretty much hooked from the first time we actually saw it. I believe we saw it when we were walking through the MIT AI Lab. I was a guest. Even back then there was some pretty amazing stuff in there. To see all these students and professors huddled around this terminal. What are the doing? They had all these incredibly cool Lisp Machines with big gorgeous displays, and a bunch of people were huddled around a machine that's got text. And we were sort of intrigued. I believe that was the first time I actually saw the game, so to speak. You know, I never got names, so I don't know. I was a petrified little 15-year-old kid walking around the MIT lab, so it was a bit of a feeling of "Am I supposed to be here?", and if I am supposed to be here, I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to talk, so perhaps I'll just be quiet and observe."


The extract from the second link needs more context. It is Pournelle saying what he would have done had he been Ted Cruz campaigning against Trump.


Yes, Dr. Pournelle was indeed a visionary and a brilliant man.

"Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free."

A quote from my all-time favorite science fiction author, RAH, also seems appropriate:

"TANSTAAFL - There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!"


Yeah, you can't be for small government if you think you're entitled to handouts of free networking service, free timesharing service, free data storage, free system administration, and free friendly help desk service, all sponsored by big government grants. And those long haired commie USER-A-holes at the MIT AI Lab Help Desk certainly were rude to him, almost as bad as Comcast. Pournelle certainly predicted the decline of Internet customer service.


Same as every small-government conservative, going right back to Heinlein: the military doesn't count. ARPANET was a military operation.


Of course, most of the really great stuff had been funded by ARPA before the whole thing became DARPA. Weren't a lot of the Xerox PARC people refugees from that whole process?


Not just refugees. The way Alan Kay describes it, PARC was essentially in the spirit of ARPA, one if the last great efforts that could be said to come from that culture. Part of the reason, he claims, is that Bob Taylor (veteran of ARPA and IPTO) managed to convince Xerox to make such a lab with minimal interference just as the old guard of ARPA funders saw their resources begin to dry up.

You don't like his politics? Fine...although I think you should reflect long and hard on how often government is an impediment to what's right as opposed to a help.

If you think anything you listed was "free", you're delusional. :-)

You're also laser-focused on one minor incident in a very long, productive life.


I also don't like his hypocrisy.

I certainly hope for your sake that you're not in Texas or Louisiana or Florida, up to your neck in water, waiting for the climate change deniers in the government to bail you out.

MIT never sent me or POURNE a bill for the all the networking and computer services, personal guidance, tutoring and support we received pro-bono from the MIT-AI Lab staff, so it was free to us, and I for one appreciated it and am grateful.

RMS even custom wrote POURNE some free software at his request. You can't put a price on this: "He was immensely helpful to me in those days, patiently showing me things about emacs — his full-screen editor that he wrote in TECO, and the less said about TECO the better — as well as adding some special code to take care of things I wanted to accomplish."

https://www.jerrypournelle.com/reviews/bookmonth.html

But they did send me an official MIT AI Lab Tourist Policy that I had to promise to abide by in order to use their machines, which I gladly signed and returned and followed. And POURNE was flushed because he clearly violated it, not because of his politics.

http://www.art.net/~hopkins/Don/text/tourist-policy.html

>13. Any use of the MIT ITS machines for personal gain, profit making enterprise, or political purposes is not a legitimate use of the Laboratories' computer resources.

>14. These specific statements of policy give a minimum of how a tourist ought to behave to be a responsible user on the MIT ITS system. They are not a complete list of all the ways tourists should or should not behave. Just because some particular anti-social behavior is not listed does not mean that it is acceptable. What a tourist should do is cultivate a good attitude: make a positive effort to anticipate and avoid actions that would interfere with other users. If you cannot tell whether a certain course of action can interfere with any one, find out from someone else before trying it.

It's so ironic you're trying to Gish Gallop with tired talking point against big government, which funded the ARPANET, and which is currently busy dealing with a series of natural disasters, while you are trying to smear the MIT-AI lab as a bunch of communists. My failure to respond to all of your posts within your expected time frame is because they're simply not worth responding to.

https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Gish_Gallop


Ah, the "Gish Gallop" argument surrender tactic. Nice!

It was clear when I read your initial boorish and tone-deaf remarks on a eulogy thread that you worship at the altar of big government and socialism. Sadly it seems your mind is closed to many of the obvious truths surrounding those entities and human nature.

Be sure to keep a close eye out for Putin skulking around! :-)


If anything it's the other guys that come off as HUGE jerks in this.

Their whole argument is how he shouldn't speak in public about ARPANET and that (quoting exactly): "The more attention you (and other people) draw to non-blow-em-up use of the arpanet the more likely some Proxmire type is to start inquiring into its operations.".

So, let's keep it to our small boys club.

Fuck them. If anything Pournelle's exposure of it helped it get into more people's minds, and open sooner.


In 1985?


Yes, why not in 1985?


In 1985, it was the ARPAnet (research) and MILnet (military/government). It was funded by the US Government, and was not the open "Internet" we enjoy today, which consists of thousands of privately-owned interconnected networks.

Pournelle was a GUEST USER of a system at MIT, accessing it through an ARPAnet dialup node (of which he did not have official permission to use).

The admins of said system requested that he not talk about non-official use of the ARPAnet in his BYTE column (so that the government people funding the network, not ask "why does this scifi writer have access to these systems?").

He persisted, and then he decided to be rude and mouth off to the people that ran the system he was a guest user of. When they got tired of it and locked his account, he threatened to use his contacts / influence to make things difficult for them, and falsely claimed it was due to politics and not his own entitled attitude.

How is that not being a huge jerk? Honestly, that's well into a-hole territory in my opinion.


>The admins of said system requested that he not talk about non-official use of the ARPAnet in his BYTE column (so that the government people funding the network, not ask "why does this scifi writer have access to these systems?").

I get all that -- I even quoted where they suggested the non-military it should be kept from the military guys.

What I say is that not having it kept

>How is that not being a huge jerk?

First, those people weren't the creators and payers of ARPAnet. The US government and the "military guys" were. So he wasn't "their guest" to begin with.

They just administered it. The admins of a system are not owners -- nor are their pals who they let in covertly.

Second, (and this holds whether you are a guest or not) if you're invited somewhere and see guys keeping a good thing to themselves and not wanting it to get noticed by the masses, you're not a jerk to dismiss their "radio silence" rule, and tell others about it.

They're the jerks for being silent about it (even if that was just out of fear from having it shut down).

Clearly the ARPAnet needed to open up to more people -- and eventually get to something like the internet.

Keeping silent about the "non-official use" because you are lucky to be in would be cowardly and selfish (I'm in, screw the masses, they don't have to know such a thing exists and people could potentially get join if we opened it up).


You call letting tourists use precious, delicate, expensive computers during off hours for free, and spending many hours of unpaid free time guiding and teaching them, "keeping a good thing to themselves"?

You think the only people who built the internet were "military guys"?

You think the ARPANET and MIT AI Lab should have been opened up to all of Byte Magazine's users, instead of Byte starting their own private commercial BIX network, and that MIT AI Lab staff should have supported all of those clueless newbies as well as the drunk and belligerent POURNE himself, instead of performing the research and development that was their day job?

You're totally off base, entitled, and have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. So educate yourself with the facts:

Read the MIT AI Lab Tourist Policy [1], which POURNE clearly violated.

[1] http://www.art.net/~hopkins/Don/text/tourist-policy.html

Then read POURNE's own gushing flattering words about how RMS took his own time to suffer him by teaching him about TECO and EMACS, and actually wrote him free software on demand to his specifications [2].

[2] https://www.jerrypournelle.com/reviews/bookmonth.html

>"I first met Richard Stallman (he called himself RMS in those days) when he was a graduate student at MIT and I was just learning about the ARPANET. He was immensely helpful to me in those days, patiently showing me things about emacs — his full-screen editor that he wrote in TECO, and the less said about TECO the better — as well as adding some special code to take care of things I wanted to accomplish. I learned then that RMS and I have a common failing: We don't suffer fools gladly or indeed at all, and we are sometimes wrong about who is a fool. But that's another story for another time."

And finally, read the words [3] of an anonymous MIT-AI Lab member who spent much of their own time helping POURNE and I as well as many other tourists. Even though POURNE isn't around to defend himself, I feel obligated to post this in response to the crass misunderstandings and misstatements of the facts in your attempt to smear the MIT AI Lab and its members (your own words: "Fuck them."), and because I agree with the point that "If he didn't want to have this as his enduring legacy, he had plenty of opportunity to make amends. And the offensive acts were not private ones.", and also with the points about asymmetric audience and the responsibility to do well by one's celebrity:

[3]

>We definitely had seen a great many "tourist" users, and it seemed to me that they would come away enriched. People spent a lot of time with Niven, Fuzzy (his wife, as I recall), and Pourne, showing them around the place, including them in the social aspects. ____ and I had him use the Lisp-teaching program. He used mailing lists to engage an interested audience.

>Then later, as I recall, he wrote publicly in negative terms about the whole of society that had welcomed him in, as if these were all abuses. As if he had a secret he was compelled to share, but not really a secret since so many knew. As if any community shared was just grist for the mill if it could be turned to buy celebrity.

>But the entire justification of tourist use was that the machines would otherwise sit idle. Any time I spent, and I suspect others spent, talking to him were unpaid. They made better use of resources than if those resources were used strictly as planned. But he didn't see it that way.

>That's his right. But it's my right to see him as neither courteous to his former hosts nor visionary about how the world works and should work, at least from those experiences. (I never got to reading his books, in part because of these other experiences. It soured me to the need.)

>But our public personas, the places we take a stand, are are our enduring legacies. It is our afterlife. I am not religious, and so what I do in life is a preparation for how I will be perceived when I am not around. I hold him to a like standard.

>If he didn't want to have this as his enduring legacy, he had plenty of opportunity to make amends. And the offensive acts were not private ones. They were ones he used his stature in the community to magnify in a way that those of us who were implicated had no similar way to respond.

>This, by the way, is the underlying basis of things like libel that make them differ from slander. I'm not alleging either slander or libel here, but I am saying that the key issue in libel is not just untruth, it's about the access one has to broad audience. If you say something in print and the person who needs to respond has no similar access to print, then your words have asymmetric effect in public conversation. The core issue is not print vs non-print, not paper vs word, in case you get confused about whether the internet is print. The core issue is audience. And even on the internet there is the issue of asymmetric audience.

>Asymmetric audience is prone to variations on the Peter Principle, where a good writer can gain audience that allows them to speak on other topics. There is considerable value in that, but also considerable responsibility to do well by one's celebrity.


First, that was still the time when everyone was going to throw out these stupid TCP/IP protocols any day now in favor of the professional telecom people's OSI work. TCP was what, 3 or 4 years old then?

Second, the network was for official government approved use only, which mostly meant research and communication between researchers. Everything else was an open secret, but officially under the radar.

At the same time, USENET was running on UUCP over TCP, which meant that the majority of traffic was alt.binaries, and a big chunk of that was porn.

So, yes, having an overly entitled jackass publicly embarrass them was something most admins feared. (My brush with greatness was Cat Yronwode and the cs.utexas mail to news gateway. But that was a decade after this.)


RIP Jerry.

May you be able to lift all the computers now.

(I should explain for those who are unfamiliar with the reference: one of Pournelle's Laws was "Never trust a computer you can't lift.")

And now my personal JP story... The one time I met Jerry Pournelle was when we peed together.

I was in the men's room at one of the West Coast Computer Faires when Jerry walked in and used the urinal next to me. We had a nice little conversation while we did our business.

And thankfully for me and the other men nearby, even though Jerry was quite tipsy on that good convention beer, he never lost his aim!


Did that one come before or after Woz's "never trust a computer you can't throw out a window"?


I never read any of his books, but I read, avidly, his Chaos Manor column on BYTE every month and back in time at the library.

On every frontier we need writers that can translate the wonder to others who don't experience it first hand. IT is no different: he went to live into the near future and always came back with great stories.


I loved his BYTE column. It was usually just a story of dealing with some problem, either something that stopped working right, or trying to install a new machine or software program. He would take you through what happened, step-by-step, including all the confusions and mistakes, and it was fascinating reading. He used to say, if I remember correctly, "I do it the dumb way so you don't have to."

I was really shocked when BYTE stopped publishing. I couldn't believe that such a superb publication that was so valued by its readers could go out of business. From what I recall, what happened is first it was bought up by a publisher who wanted to turn it into a magazine for average computer users, not techies, and then when that failed to get a market, just shut it down. So much for the idea that the free enterprise system always makes things better.


JP had a helluva career. Advised mayors, presidents, influenced space policy, inspired a ton via Byte Magazine, in addition to a catalog of books that were usually well grounded in science.


His Iron Law of Bureaucracy is one of life’s truths. Loved his writing and his presentation. Chaos Manor was always the first column I read in Byte.


What I know about Pournelle I mostly picked up from listening to him the few times he was on the TWiT podcast. He was always an interesting guest.

One thing he mentioned there that stuck with me was that he logs his daily activities in a journal. What he eats, the weather, phone calls, meetings, etc... I tried to start the habit, but it never stuck.

I wonder if his personal papers will end up in some university's collection?


Those TWiT episodes with Jerry and John C Dvorak were pure gold. He was a giant in the industry. R.I.P.


One of my favorite military-SF anthologies was There Will Be War, which iirc Pournelle edited. His CoDominium and Janissaries works were also good reads, and he had some wonderful collaborations with Larry Niven.

Rest well, sir.


I didn't much care for his politics, but he wrote some good stories.


Jerry's pages were always the first pages I read when he was a columnist for the Byte magazine in the 80's. He was a true pioneer in those early days of computing who wrote non-stop about new products and the computer exhibitions he attended. RIP.


What were his politics beyond cynicism regarding the incentive structures often embedded within our most common governing systems?


Wikipedia says he was involved in missile defense under Reagan which suggests to me he may have been one of the "opposed to big government except when it's people I like" variety.

But though I will also classify myself less than appealed by descriptions of his politics and I voted up davidw above I want to be clear I think it would be uncool to bash him for it at the time of his death.


I wasn't bashing him: I wouldn't have submitted this if I didn't like his work.


So what was his politics?


Your couldn't tell from his books? They're full of ineffectual and whiny bureaucrats and academics being put in their place by rugged and noble soldiers and whatnot.

I enjoyed the heck out of most of the Niven/Pournelle books I read, but the political didactics weren't part of the fun for me.


So... Like Heinlein? Post-WWII Cold War sentiment of that type was not uncommon. I/We (old people) looked at "big government" as something that collectivists (national socialists (nazis), fascists, international socialists (communists), socialists) did ... and without going all John Birch, even ignoring the air-raid sirens making you (uselessly) hide under your desks, it made one cynical about systems related to people pointing their nukes (back) at you...


Maybe their goals were similar, but I always found Heinlein's poltical writing so much more positive that I enjoyed it, even though I didn't like his politics.

Heinlein wrote stories about heroic Libertarians and happy soldiers.

Pournelle wrote stories about incompetent and deluded liberal professors and conniving politicians.

Think about the scene with the kid in Moon is a Harsh Mistress where an entitled Earth boy gets handsy with a woman and they hold an impromptu court for him.

In the book, he learns from his mistake and is a "convert" to Heinlein's way of thinking. Pournelle's political writing was much more Manichean - the boy would be an entitled villain to his death.


Maybe so. I do remember that I found Heinlein a lot "lighter" in his approach to any dialectic.

It's been more than a couple of decades since I have read either. It seems that I need a refresher!


Here you mean "Manichean" to mean 'redemptive' in the moral-dualism sense? If not, what do you mean? (I want to make sure I am reading you as you intend)


I just mean that the "bad" characters are unsympathetically evil. The simplistic good/evil concept aligned to his politics.


He was a bit too much towards the right-wing conservatism and militarism. I believe the best interests of the US are better served by soft diplomacy rather than the indiscriminate use of military force. One can be respected by either love or fear but only love will get one real loyalty.


Nation-states are not people. Nations have (temporary and shifting) alliances based on common shared interests -- not love.

Japan is a great ally. I lived there for over a decade, and I can say that I love the Japanese people. But I will admit - and their people of the WWII generation would too (although - sadly they are (have been) passing too quickly), it took a solid kick in the teeth to get them to calm down and cooperate.

Sometimes, with intense nation-state disagreement, things are settled at the point of a gun. Where there is a winner and a loser.

I like diplomacy as much (or more) than the next guy ... but it is irresponsible for a nation to be unprepared for when that doesn't work.

N.B. Fighting back after Pearl Harbor is a different kettle of fish than exporting democracy by force. We have no business doing the latter. It's obscene.

EDIT: I didn't downvote you. I appreciated your take on the query posed.


Nations are not loyal but people can be. If you do soft diplomacy right, those people will see your country as a partner and will vote accordingly.

I didn't say one shouldn't be prepared to fight, just that fighting is almost never the right way to start it. Being prepared to defend yourself and your allies requires a vastly different inventory than cannon diplomacy.


https://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/trump-is-the-candi...

"So what do I do? I agree with nearly everything he is for, but I’m better qualified to make it happen. I avoid some issues, but I go for his most popular ones and say, yeah! Want that! And I can make it happen better than he can. I’ve got the experience of working in government, but I’m not the establishment any more than Mr. Trump is. Heck, I’ll offer him a cabinet post. I could use his energy in my administration." -POURNE

http://voxday.blogspot.nl/2016/04/jerry-pournelle-on-donald-...

"But he has never wavered on his desire to fill the Supreme Court with Justices as near in scholarship and view to Scalia as possible; that alone would be enough to get me to the polls for Trump if he’s nominated." -POURNE

https://newrepublic.com/article/139817/donald-trump-wants-ig...

Both here and elsewhere, Lukacs argued that as white nations, America and Russia might profitably work together to prop each other up against a planet where they were a racial minority. The right-wing science-fiction writers Jerry Pournelle (an admirer of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini) and Larry Niven pursued a similar argument in their CoDominium novels, a long-running series of novels that started in 1973 and imagines a world where the U.S. and the Soviet Union work together to govern an unruly planet.

http://crookedtimber.org/2011/12/12/the-attractions-of-fasci...

At one point, Gingrich was supposed to be writing a novel with his friend, noted authority on the political attractions of Fascism, Jerry Pournelle. I don’t know what happened to it, but I imagine it would have made quite interesting reading (Inferno, Pournelle’s ‘Benito Mussolini redeems himself in an updated version of Dante’s hell’ schlock-epic with Larry Niven, is certainly entertaining if your tastes run to certain varieties of kitsch).


"The right-wing science-fiction writers Jerry Pournelle (an admirer of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini) and Larry Niven pursued a similar argument in their CoDominium novels, a long-running series of novels that started in 1973 and imagines a world where the U.S. and the Soviet Union work together to govern an unruly planet."

1) Niven didn't co-write any of the CoDominium novels, as far as I know. Mote had some historical references to it, but it was set hundreds of years after the CoDominium had collapsed.

2) The CoDominium weren't the "good guys" in those books.

3) Pournelle was not an "admirer of Mussolini".

Inaccurate to the point of being dishonest.


Don,

You're quite aggressive in this thread about someone who just died in a multitude of comments, and it's not like JP will rise up to defend himself. I don't like his politics either and I'm sure that some of what you wrote has merit but please have some respect. This simply isn't the time.


Please read my words correcting the crass misrepresentations and misunderstandings in the post from the guy who attacked the MIT AI Lab with the quite aggressive words "Fuck them", as well as the MIT AI Lab Tourist Policy which POURNE violated, and of course POURNE's own words describing how much effort the MIT AI Lab staff and even RMS himself put into personally helping him and even writing him free software to his specifications, and also the words of an anonymous staff member on the topic, POURNE's enduring legacy, asymmetric audience, and his failure to live up to the responsibility of his celebrity. Specifically:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15221830

And finally, read the words [3] of an anonymous MIT-AI Lab member who spent much of their own time helping POURNE and I as well as many other tourists. Even though POURNE isn't around to defend himself, I feel obligated to post this in response to the crass misunderstandings and misstatements of the facts in your attempt to smear the MIT AI Lab and its members (your own words: "Fuck them."), and because I agree with the point that "If he didn't want to have this as his enduring legacy, he had plenty of opportunity to make amends. And the offensive acts were not private ones.", and also with the points about asymmetric audience and the responsibility to do well by one's celebrity:


I never used the words 'fuck them' in any other HN post than this one, I think you have your parties muddled up.

I didn't say you did. By 'the guy who attacked the MIT AI Lab with the quite aggressive words "Fuck them"' I meant coldtea. If I meant 'you' I would have said 'you' instead of 'the guy'.

But you both implied the MIT-AI Lab staff came off as jerks, and it was coldtea who said "Fuck them", but I was responding to both of your misimpressions that POURNE doesn't deserve his well earned reputation as a drunken abusive jerk.

But I still ask both of you to please re-read the words I cited. Do you care to address those?

Do you agree that he violated the terms of the MIT AI Lab Tourist Policy, or not?

Do his own sputtering mis-punctuated threats of having his Pentagon friends, reporter friends, and even the House Armed Services Committee upset CSTACY sound like he was drunk to you, or do you believe he behaved that way all the time, his behavior was justified, CSTACY flushing his account was not justified, and do you continue to carry his water (or booze) by denying he was acting like a jerk?

Again, as the MIT-AI Lab staff member I quoted said, "If he didn't want to have this as his enduring legacy, he had plenty of opportunity to make amends."


You are entirely missing my point, but fine.

You know a lot about things you don't seem to understand.


>Wikipedia says he was involved in missile defense under Reagan which suggests to me he may have been one of the "opposed to big government except when it's people I like" variety.

Wasn't Reagan also against big government? At least in his words?

If yes, working there would be contradictory for Jerry if he was "opposed to government" period, not if he was merely opposed to "big government".


I think in this case "Big Government" means regulation. Actually that's true in many cases.


Replace "people I like" with "actual constitutionally-mandated functions of the federal government, such as national defense".


I don't think this is the right place to discuss this, but the so-called "Star Wars" program under Reagan to which I'm referring was considered by many to be wasteful spending. I don't think there is much in the constitution mandating space lasers.


"the so-called "Star Wars" program under Reagan to which I'm referring was considered by many to be wasteful spending."

And was considered by others to be the final straw that broke the Soviet Union and put an end to a 70 year Cold War and eliminated one of the most evil empires in the history of the human race.

"I don't think there is much in the constitution mandating space lasers."

Article I, Section 8. Unless you're one of those people who attempt to argue that armies and navies are limited to 18th century technology.


From "The Demon-Haunted World" by Carl Sagan:

> It is claimed by apologists for the Reagan administration that, whatever the exaggerations in capability, some of it intentional, SDI was responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union. There is no serious evidence in support of this contention. Andrei Sakharov, Yevgeny Velikhov, Roald Sagdeev, and other scientists who advised President Mikhail Gorbachev made it clear that if the United States really went ahead with a Star Wars programme, the safest and cheapest Soviet response would be merely to augment its existing arsenal of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. In this way Star Wars could have increased, not decreased, the peril of thermonuclear war. At any rate, Soviet expenditures on space-based defences against American nuclear missiles were comparatively paltry, hardly of a magnitude to trigger a collapse of the Soviet economy. The fall of the USSR has much more to do with the failure of the command economy, growing awareness of the standard of living in the west, widespread disaffection from a moribund Communist ideology, and - although he did not intend such an outcome - Gorbachev's promotion of glasnost, or openness. Ten thousand American scientists and engineers publicly pledged they would not work on Star Wars or accept money from the SDI organization. This provides an example of widespread and courageous non-cooperation by scientists (at some conceivable personal cost) with a democratic government that had, temporarily at least, lost its way.

* I know Sagan isn't exactly a historian, but I'll choose his assessment of space war technology over other people's.


>"and eliminated one of the most evil empires in the history of the human race"

Yet ironically, so many of those very same people who once argued that are now enthusiastically supporting and carrying the water for Trump's total capitulation to Putin. Makes you wonder if they really mean what they say, or if they just lust for power and hold party over country. Hmm...


What "total capitulation to Putin" would that be, exactly? Be very specific and cite believable sources!


No response, eh? How shocking...


(Franklin was going to put in "don't let the people get nuked from orbit", but it slipped his mind. Or perhaps he figured that was covered by the "right to life" bit.)


A penny saved is a penny earned, especially when you're lasering communists from space.


The Star Wars program was designed to zap incoming missiles (i.e., a pure self-defense system), not for "lasering communists from space".

I suspect that you're not actually interested in the facts here.


I think it must have been your sense of humor that ended the cold war. The comment you're replying to is very obviously not serious.

Actually, the best commentary I have heard on this subject is that the Soviet Union fell of its own internal conflict and didn't need help from your pal Ronnie.

And to further reply to your cousin-comment to this one there is a huge difference between a constitutional mandate and a very specific implementation... Nobody mandated Star Wars.


Breaking the back of OPEC, plummeting the price of oil played no small factor. Even today, with the bounties of modern production tech, Saudi Arabia and Russia and Venezuela are hurting more than a little...


You just said it was designed to bankrupt Russia, not zap incoming missiles. Which is it?


I don't see the implied dichotomy here. The separate goals of 'zapping incoming missiles' and provoking the Soviet Union into a destructively expensive arms race are not incompatible.


The point is that if it was a head-fake to provoke the Soviet Union into destroying itself by defense spending (which is NOT the reason the Soviet Union collapsed), then 'zapping incoming missiles' was a lie. And if it really could 'zap incoming missiles', then it wasn't a head-fake.

The fact of the matter is SDI was a fraud on the American people, the United States wasted huge amounts of money on it, it couldn't 'zap incoming missiles', the defense contractors cheated, took the money and ran, which could have been used for much better purposes, because the Soviet Union collapsed for completely different reasons than overspending to compete with SDI.

http://www.nytimes.com/1990/09/18/science/technical-failures...

Technical Failures Bedevil Star Wars

>For the first time, after years of level financing at around $4 billion, opponents are on the verge of pushing through deep budget cuts in the program, which so far has cost $20 billion. The House leadership is moving to slice in half the Bush Administration's request of $4.7 billion for Star Wars for the fiscal year 1991, to $2.3 billion. The Senate voted to set aside $3.7 billion.

>[...] In a dozen or so major tests conducted this year, half have experienced problems, ranging from runaway rockets to warhead explosions to satellite malfunctions. The failures have marred the most ambitious and costly agenda in the program's history, intended to be the first broad demonstration of anti-missile technologies that have been incubating in laboratories, often amid great secrecy, for more than seven years since President Ronald Reagan started the program in March 1983.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/reagans-great-lie-in...

Reagan's great lie in the sky: Star Wars scientists may have deceived Moscow and Congress about the project, writes David Usborne in Washington

>Now, however, allegations are being made that the entire experiment was a scientific fraud. According to a New York Times report based on interviews with four unidentified former Reagan officials, the two missiles had secretly been fitted with radio beacons to guarantee their meeting in space.


Yep, their goals and expectations were overly ambitious. But that doesn't mean we don't need ABM technologies, as N Korea proves daily.


So overly ambitious that they were fraudulent and fictitious.

It's almost as if the goals of Star Wars were written by a ... drunken science fiction writer!

But that doesn't mean we don't need everlasting world peace, or a pony, or whatever fantasy your heart desires, as N Korea proves daily.


"a pure self-defense system"

There is no such thing. A good defense is the best offense.


Which "right to life" but was that?




From the blog he seemed to be aligned with Trump on many things: "regain control of borders", climate-change skepticism, supporting judges like Scalia for supreme court and so on.


He wrote a book called fallen angels where Ralph Nader had taken over the US government and replaced all science with hippy woo woo about crystals. The world was plunged into a new ice-age because of global cooling and only science fiction fans could save it.

He wasn't shy about his politics and I think it's fair to say they were pretty far out to the right.


Science fiction fans. Yep, you read that right.


In Footfall, SF authors (including a clear cameo of Heinlein) were the advisors that enabled the US government to save the Earth from the aliens. So... yeah.


Footfall had some politics, but a good story. Fallen Angels didn't have many redeeming qualities, IMO.


He wrote a book with some others guys that was supposedly influential in governemnt during the cold war. My understanding the impetus behind "star wars" missile defense was was kind of a decoy to get the Soviet Union to spend themselves to death.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategy_of_Technology


> My understanding the impetus behind "star wars" missile defense was was kind of a decoy to get the Soviet Union to spend themselves to death.

That is a very, very generous way to characterize defense programs that wasted tens of billions of dollars without producing anything. When you're dealing with a public that finds details boring and is willing to lump it all under "defense spending," you can sort of get away with it.


"without producing anything."

Well, except for numerous technologies that are in use today. Our current missile defense program, which is fairly crucial right at the moment, greatly benefitted from SDI.

Details, details...


SDI programs from the era that did not produce anything include the nuclear pumped X-Ray laser, which never worked at all. The shocking amount spent on that bullshit would have been enough to fund a huge amount of useful work in science, defense, or whatever.

The thing that's frustrating about that (aside from the fact that people are ignorant of such things, but still feel qualified to comment on the topic) is that plenty of people knew it was bullshit three decades ago. The sheer hypocrisy of the politics of SDI is almost unique in human history, considering how much money was wasted by people who claimed to be concerned about excessive government spending.


The "nuclear pumped X-ray laser" may or may not have been feasible - tests were inconclusive. That type of research is similar to the Google "moonshot" projects, many of which have been busts, eh?

Regardless, other SDI technologies such as Brilliant Pebbles and Brilliant Eyes are direct predecessors to current, successful, military technologies. There have also been many spinoffs benefiting civilians.


> The "nuclear pumped X-ray laser" may or may not have been feasible - tests were inconclusive. That type of research is similar to the Google "moonshot" projects, many of which have been busts, eh?

In the analogy Larry Page or Sergey Brin of Google would be Edward Teller, capable of forcing pursuit of an absurd project well past the point where it's obviously ridiculous to continue, simply because he can fire anyone he wants. But those guys aren't blatantly ideological, demented old men, and I'm not aware of Google ever burning money in a manner quite as cosmically absurd as Project Excalibur. The business wouldn't survive much of that.


That's why the program is still active.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_national_missile...

Well, getting someone to spend themselves to death.


Yes. It worked, too. Note that the Soviet Union no longer exists, and it happened without an actual nuclear war.


The tiger-repelling rock in my front yard works really well, too. Haven't seen any tigers around my house in ages.


Oh man. I read his column in Byte religiously. And read all his novels, especially his collaborations with Larry Niven.


Agreed. His collaborations with Niven were great. Both were great authors alone, but as a team they were really something special. Footfall, A Mote in God's Eye, and Lucifer's Hammer are a few of my favorite sci-fi reads to this day.


I always think they each took something from Heinlein - Pournelle got his politics, his passion, and worldbuilding, while Niven got his brainstorming and whimsy. Put them together and you get a whole Heinlein.


Some of my favorite episodes of This Week in Tech was when Jerry was a guest host. I loved all of his sci-fi books over the years. Going to miss this guy a lot.


Ooh.

Read his byte article a lot. S-100 based system is a bridge too far from my 1980s me. But enjoy his writing very much his writing.

Rip.



I just checked his site today like I do every few days. He just got back from DragonCon, complaining of a flu bug he caught sometime during his trip. He signed off his last post, "Bye for now". I will miss him and his writing.


I was only a kid when I read his columns in Byte where he gave a narrative of his experiences using products - a really unique style for the time and thoroughly enjoyable - I always read the JP columns.


My first off-campus email was to Jerry Pournelle, regarding one of his F&SF stories. To my astonishment, he answered! I thought that was really cool of him. RIP.


Sad day. I enjoyed the fiction and the Byte column, despite him being a jerk sometimes.

Anyone interested in science fiction should read at least The Mote in God's Eye.


I read his column first when I received my copy of Byte Magazine. Chaos Manor helped me decide to become an IT professional. He will be missed. Sad day.


Jerry's columns are what made me want to write about tech. I don't do it professionally but I do enjoy blogging about tech when I get the chance.

RIP.


I used to love reading Byte magazine and I always enjoyed his column in the magazine. I am sorry to hear he has passed away.


I remember his articles in BYTE magazine. Always interesting. Sad to see you go, Jerry.



Back in the day, I used to joke that my goal in life was to become Jerry Pournelle's garbage man.


Thank you for that. Brought back memories.


I sure did. He nailed it. RIP, Jerry.


Rest in peace Jerry. Godspeed!


RIP Jerry - my first exposure to Jerry was his BYTE magazine articles.


His far right politics was a bit of a turnoff for me. YMMV


R.I.P. Mr. Pournelle.

This is a sad day. Besides his novels, I seem to recall Jerry Pournelle doing a lot of writing for ( Byte | Computer Shopper | PC Magazine). back in the day. I really enjoyed his articles back in the 90's when I was first getting started in computing.

Mods, can we get a black bar to commemorate Mr. Pournelle?


I've actually never read any of his novels, but thoroughly enjoyed his column in Byte.

What might be a good starting place with his books?


"a mote in god's eye", one of his many collaborations with larry niven, is excellent.

"oath of fealty" is another good one that should appeal to the hackernews crowd.


After 20 years all I remember about `Mote` is the incessant conversations about tea and coffee...


Like other's have said; his collaborations with Niven are really great. Footfall, Lucifer's Hammer, and A Mote in God's Eye were my personal favorites.


That's a good question. I've only read his non-fiction stuff myself. The books I feel like I've heard people talk about the most though, are a couple of the ones he wrote with Larry Niven: Inferno, Lucifer's Hammer, etc. I think I'll try to track those down and read them soon, as my little way of paying tribute to the man.


Fuzzy brain. But I learned I think from one of his byte columns never to mix my business income and expenses with personal ones.


Seconding this. Could we honor his memory with the black bar please?


Chaos Manor. S100 Bus. Wordstar. Parallel port. Reviews of stuff he used every day when writing sci-fi. (The Mote in God's Eye).


Wikipedia is an unusual source to reference here. Could you provide a more concrete link?


I didn't have one earlier, but here's this:

https://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/passings/

If dang or one of the moderators would like to change it, that works for me.




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