RIP Dennis Ritchie (and Steve Jobs)

This was originally going to be a post about Steve Jobs.  I had a draft going, but then I put it off.  And then just now I heard that Dennis Ritchie, one of the creators of UNIX, died today at age 70.

My original draft was going to be something along the lines of how Steve Jobs was sort of overrated in that he was more a marketing genius as opposed to a great technological innovator, but at the same time was a very important figure who helped to make technology more accessible to the masses and inspire people.  Well, Dennis Ritchie was certainly more the innovator.  UNIX and C are the foundation of so much in computing, from microcontrollers all the way up to super computers, and they likely will be for a long time.

So, long story short, there are many ways to have an impact, and it doesn’t just have to involve appearing in front of large crowds in jeans and a turtleneck.

RIP Billy Mays, 1958-2009

Goodnight, Sweet Prince
Goodnight, Sweet Prince

You’ve probably seen this guy on TV, promoting some sort of amazing product for the home.  Chances are you found his constant shouting annoying, or thought that his products were cheap pieces of crap.  Maybe you saw his show Pitchmen on the Discovery channel.  Maybe you just didn’t pay him much attention.

I’ve never bought anything Billy Mays sold on TV.  I guess I did find his commercials a little annoying sometimes, though I did think that they were funny in a way.  This led me to the Youtube parodies (look them up, I’m not going to link to them now), some of which were pretty good.  And of course he became a bit of an Internet meme as well.

But despite not knowing him or really caring about what he had to sell, I have to say that I miss him.  I mean, I don’t like it when people die, but aside from that I feel kind of like I would about the death of a favorite musican (I’m not referring to Micheal Jackson here, though I do feel the same way a little bit).  Billy Mays loved what he did, you could see that in his exhuberence in each one of his commercials.  In this day and age, where people go to college to be things like docotors, lawyers, scientists, and engineers, it’s easy to look at someone like Billy and say that he was just some guy with a loud voice who sold crap on TV.  But he had a skill that made companies what to advertise over 30 products with him (see his Wiki page).  He was one of the best, a true professional.  And think about it: if he sold crap, people would talk about it.  The fact that he was hired so much means he has standards; if he didn’t people wouldn’t want to buy anything of his.  I’ve never met him, but I’ve heard he was a great guy, too.

Well, I suppose someone will take his place.  But he’ll be remembered, maybe not like Micheal Jackson, but maybe in stories my generation tells their children.  Well, it’s a little odd to think of a TV pitchman that way, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how it turns out.

Billy, you will be missed.

Close to Home

Last night (Thursday, Feb. 12) I was working on some homework when a friend of mine IMed me a link from the Buffalo News. I couldn’t believe it. At this moment they don’t know why the plane crashed, but they did recover the black boxes. Everyone on board, along with one person on the ground died after it crashed into a home. The airline has not released all the names yet, though the article does name a few people.

Being from Buffalo (Amherst, actually), this is awkward on many levels. Obviously, it’s scary just to imagine dieing as a plane crashes into your home. Added to this is the fact that I know people who live close to where this happened. And then of course there’s the realization that, while in all likelihood nobody I know was involved, this is something that happened in my home town.

It’s easy to read about disasters in the news. They happen all the time, and the media loves to report them. But when something like this happens maybe fifteen or twenty minutes away from where you grew up, it’s different. All I can say really is that these people will be in my prayers. I guess it’s another lesson that you never really know what kinds of curves the Universe will throw at you.