He was the most brilliant man I ever met, and I still can't believe this is happening.
My thoughts go out to his friends and family. It is a testament to Len's character that the loss of a person who I spent no more than eight hours could have such a profound impact on me.
I met Len in 1999, he was a kid. A cocky kid who thought he knew everything and I wasn't impressed. I think we were arguing about K of N keysplitting. Rodney Thayer said "Yeah, he's like we were at that age." Rodney was gracious and patient, accepting and loving towards Len and I felt obliged to follow his lead. This is a highly improbable description of Rodney, but it was the truth. I became friends with Len and we were coconspirator cypherpunks at a time when that was a wild frontier. We were reimagining our world, riddled with cryptosystems that would mathematically enforce the freedoms that we treasured. Anonymous remailers to preserve speech without fear of retribution; onion routers to ensure nobody could censor the internet; digital cash to enable a radically free economy. We have schemes to decentralize & distribute everything. We imagine complex and esoteric threats to problems we might someday have - we architect futuristic protocols to insulate against those threats. All this is a highly academic geek utopia exercise. I tend to keep it that way, but Len wanted to get his hands dirty. There were times when Len got visits from various Federal agencies over remailer abuse. At first Len would get scared and I'd get him out of the house which he assumed was bugged, and drive around for a while. Especially in those early years, Len was trying to impress us. We invited him to join The Shmoo Group, where I'm a fringe radical, and Len became the lunatic fringe. I'm sure we helped temper his apocalyptic tendencies and at times he even bordered on diplomatic. But it isn't in our nature to acknowledge prowess directly. You only know a hacker respects you if he's willing to waste his time shooting holes in your ideas. I have thousands of messages to and from Len spanning the last decade, and I doubt a single one of them offers any direct praise.
Len got his hands dirty. He committed himself to building the stuff we imagined. I play it safe and remain blameless, but I get to stay balanced because courageous guys like Len fulfill the extremes.
Len, you are, in fact, an inspiration to those of us who inspired you. You made something great of your life. You left a lot behind for us. Thanks for letting me be a part of it all.
Cypherpunks write code.
WikiPedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Len_Sassaman
Reported by Rob Bird (@conduit242) and Bram Cohen (@bramcohen)
Len was brilliant, the inventor of mixmaster, cocreator of CodeCon, and a wonderful human being. The world just lost a great mind and a great man.
While most of us know of Len because of his security work, I first met him through the do-it-yourself biohacking community. He gave a great talk at Open Science Summit on this topic. I was in the audience at the time, and figured I'd type a transcript. I apologize for typos, but QWERTY can only be pushed so hard. He was talking about the involvement of the FBI with DIYbio, conveying his unfortunate experiences in the past with law enforcement and what he hopes will become of these trends.
We're going to run into similar problems here where your local sheriff, your backwoods outpost for FBI agents who are not qualified to be doing their jobs, to the nosy neighbor who files a report that has the men in biohazard suits coming through your windows and raiding your art projects with glowing bacteria. Education and outreach to the legislature and the law enforcenment is critical if we want to be viewed not as advisories, the bad guys, and not be viewed as a threat. If you've ever had to be on the wrong side of the table, an unfortunate situation, say, the FBI, as I have, you'll realize that at that point, it's too late to try to convince a law enforcement officer that you're the good guy- you're the suspect.
This is our heritage, this research, these ideas that we have, that is leading to knowledge that no human in history has had the opportunity to have before. This is what we're going to be handing down to future generations. We need to make sure we are not backed into a corner where we are not able to distribute this research to others, and that this isn't locked up in IP vaults with lawyers standing guard. And finally, there will be accidents and problems. We need to mitigate these risks.
Depression is a horrible, horrible thing, both for those who experience it and the people who love them. Len was a brilliant, sensitive, loving man with the rotten luck to be too tormented by his own brain chemistry to realise how much he was valued by so many people, no matter how often we told him.
He was 31.
I'm dreadfully bad at the whole condolences thing. I hope you get the support you need to get you through this.
And thank you for taking the time to respond here on HN.
Sad to find out this news. :-(
- Black Unicorn
CP's may write code, but you were among the true believers who would run that code as well. I hope that you are somewhere at peace, writing happy code, and in charge of turning away hopeful former fedz arriving at the Pearly Gates. Your legacy will live on in polynomial time.
My sincere thoughts and prayers are with you in this time of loss. Please do let me know if you both had a charity and/or organization you supported.
Hugs from Washington
Managing director, Privaterra
He was so incredibly encouraging of taking big leaps and always striving to do courageous things, even if it meant taking on risk. You could always count on him for a totally unvarnished opinion of your code or project, which is both rare and incredibly cherished.
It was amazing to work on a project for two weeks and have him tell you in two minutes what was wrong with it, why, and a better way to do it. For a plebe like me, it meant the world for him to actually take the time and explain things to me.
On top of everything else, he really made a difference at a time when I was struggling with depression.
It just seems like there are not enough words to truly talk about the impact his life had on the world. His legacy is just tremendous.
It is extremely sad to lose a brilliant young guy to depression. Oh the vagaries of life.
I will really miss him.
My thoughts are with you, Meredith.
-- Bill Pollock
It's been years; when I got work from a colleague from the Netaxs days, I was an am still stunned.
It was one of more coherent threads at those meetings.