Bumping into Jerry Pournelle...

There have been a few perfect technology columnists to which technology hacks like myself owe some deference. These guys blazed the path before PCs even existed. They were working on homebrew equipment and loading operating systems with toggle switches a dozen years before hard drives become affordable. One of my early favorites was Jerry Pournelle who wrote Computing at Chaos Manor column for the back pages of Byte magazine.

In the 1980s Byte Magazine was a big, glossy production, which covered technology in depth. The articles might encourage you to build a PC, understand how to program in a Smalltalk, or review the protocol differences between the new high-speed 14,400 BAUD MODEMs. Alas, after purchase by CMP, Byte has whither away to a web only version, but during a recent bout of non-directed web crawling I discovered Byte's website and even more amazing that Dr. Jerry Pournelle is alive, well and continuing to offer a column on the remaining website. I had rediscovered an old friend.

I may be alone in my thoughts regarding Pournelle and his column, but I always found both to be warm and personal without succumbing to narcissism. Pournelle used his space to describe the day to day technology challenges of keeping his various computers running and reflect upon his life as a writer. Each column read like a quirky dispatch from a clever and talented friend.

Jerry's columns were not without a lesson for me. He unabashedly wrote in his own voice. His words were direct and his opinions fearlessly presented. His writing was authentic. Over the years I have learned (with much difficulty) that my most engaging writing comes when I am able to silence the yelling in my head that says this isn't good enough and proceed in my own true voice. When I write naturally, people respond. It's been a hard lesson to grasp, but I think Jerry's columns at Byte planted the seed that let me know that as long as I don't abuse my readers with barbaric grammar, poorly constructed sentences or flagrant misspellings, my own voice is certainly good enough.

Dr. Jerry Pournelle continues to write and offers bits of regular insight into his life and thoughts at www.jerrypournelle.com.

ps: I bumped into Jerry Pournelle at a COMDEX show some years ago. We chatted for a couple of minutes and I helped him score a free red golf umbrella from an Asian manufacturer of motherboards for custom PCs. I was too embarassed and awestruck at the time to ask for his autograph. Next time, I'll ask.

Tags: , ,

About Phil Yanov

Phil Yanov is a Technologist, Columnist and Public Radio Commentator.

He is the founder of Tech After Five as well as the founder and President of the GSA Technology Council and the IT Leadership Council.

His personal technology column appears in Greenville Business Magazine and the Columbia Business Journal.

He co-hosts the Your Day technology shows heard on NPR radio stations across South Carolina and is a frequent contributor to technology stories appearing on radio and television.