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Remembering Sean "Vilerat" Smith, killed in Benghazi

Zack Parsons, author and Something Awful moderator, writes,

Sean Smith was one of the four men tragically killed in the consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya on September 11^th . He was a foreign services officer for the State Department. He leaves behind a wife and two young children. I knew him as “Vilerat” on the SA forums. He has been a moderator there since 2008 and he has posted there since 2002. He was also well-known in the EVE online gaming community.

I am trying to honor him and all of his contributions to our community and to the world by giving his family a helping hand with their expenses. I have started a fundraiser with the assistance of his friend on EVE and the SA forums, and the input of his wife, Heather, and I am trying to get the word out about it.

Farewell to Vilerat (Thanks, Zack!)

Retired NASA astronaut Alan Poindexter dies in watercraft accident

Alan Poindexter, 50, a U.S. Navy Captain who joined NASA's astronaut corps in 1998 and made two space shuttle flights, died this weekend in a WaveRunner accident. Before his space career, "Dex" flew combat missions in Iraq, then became a test pilot. He logged more than 4,000 hours of flying time in more than 30 types of aircraft. Snip from Reuters:

Poindexter and his 22-year-old son Samuel were riding on one WaveRunner and his older son, 26-year-old Zachary, was on another, spokesman Stan Kirkland said. "They stopped and apparently Zachary did not see them stop," Kirkland said. "He struck the right rear or the right stern of their personal watercraft. His watercraft went up and apparently struck Captain Poindexter in the back. Both Captain Poindexter and Samuel were ejected."

Both sons survived. More:, Reuters. Image: Poindexter commanding the STS-131 mission.

Below, videos: Poindexter commenting on the end of the Space Shuttle program, in 2010, and on the food astronauts enjoy eating while in space. Also, a NASA TV video recorded during STS-131, and Poindexter "flying" a shuttle simulator.

Read the rest

Obituary for a French superspy

The Telegraph's obit for Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld recounts the florid and exciting life of the aristocrat turned French resistance fighter turned UK special forces killer turned escape artist turned colonial enforcer in Indochina. In particular, La Rochefoucauld was a skilled escapologist, and ballsy as all hell about it:

Dropped into the Morvan with two British agents, including one radio operator, La Rochefoucauld teamed up with a Maquis group near Avallon led by a man who called himself The Pope. After destroying the electrical substation at Avallon, and blowing up railway tracks, La Rochefoucauld was awaiting exfiltration by the RAF when he was denounced and arrested. After a series of interrogations, he was condemned to death.

En route to his execution in Auxerre, La Rochefoucauld made a break, leaping from the back of the truck carrying him to his doom, and dodging the bullets fired by his two guards. Sprinting through the empty streets, he found himself in front of the Gestapo’s headquarters, where a chauffeur was pacing near a limousine bearing the swastika flag. Spotting the key in the ignition, La Rochefoucauld jumped in and roared off, following the Route Nationale past the prison he had left an hour earlier.

Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld (via Kottke)

(Image: downsized, cropped thumbnail of a larger image on The Telegraph)

RIP, Andy Griffith

Andy Griffith, TV star, comedian, raconteur and comedian, has died at 86. I grew up on Mayberry, and I can sing all the words to the Andy Griffith theme (and also the Beyonce mashup). I'll miss him.

BREAKING NEWS: Friend Says Andy Griffith Has Died

Neil Gaiman remembers Ray Bradbury

Neil Gaiman's remembrance of Ray Bradbury is very sweet and paints a picture of one of the field's great mensches:

Last week, at dinner, a friend told me that when he was a boy of 11 or 12 he met Ray Bradbury. When Bradbury found out that he wanted to be a writer, he invited him to his office and spent half a day telling him the important stuff: if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Every day. Whether you feel like it or not. That you can't write one book and stop. That it's work, but the best kind of work. My friend grew up to be a writer, the kind who writes and supports himself through writing.

Ray Bradbury was the kind of person who would give half a day to a kid who wanted to be a writer when he grew up.

A man who won't forget Ray Bradbury (Thanks, Deborah!)

RIP, Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is dead. He was 91 years old. He wrote some of the most inspiring and beautiful stories I've ever read. He fought for libraries. He changed my life with a novel called Dandelion Wine, much of which I can still quote from memory. Every time I find myself wandering a city street alone at night -- every single time -- I think of his story Drink Entire. He did some stuff that disappointed me, but I never fell out of love with the art that he made. The world is much richer for the work he made, and much poorer for his passing.

From the AP obit:

“The great thing about my life is that everything I’ve done is a result of what I was when I was 12 or 13,” he said in 1982.

Bradbury’s family moved to Los Angeles in 1934. He became a movie buff and a voracious reader. “I never went to college, so I went to the library,” he explained.

He tried to write at least 1,000 words a day, and sold his first story in 1941. He submitted work to pulp magazines until he was finally accepted by such upscale publications as The New Yorker. Bradbury’s first book, a short story collection called “Dark Carnival,” was published in 1947.

He was so poor during those years that he didn’t have an office or even a telephone. “When the phone rang in the gas station right across the alley from our house, I’d run to answer it,” he said.

He wrote “Fahrenheit 451” at the UCLA library, on typewriters that rented for 10 cents a half hour. He said he carried a sack full of dimes to the library and completed the book in nine days, at a cost of $9.80.

Sci-fi master Ray Bradbury, author of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ ‘Martian Chronicles,’ dead at 91

One of the greatest days of my life was when Gardner Dozois reviewed my first professionally published story, "Craphound," and said of it that it had a "rich, Bradburian vein of nostalgia" running through it.

Update: Jenny Hart points out that Bradbury had a beautiful essay in The New Yorker last week.

(Image: Merry Christmas 2116 XVIII, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from seraphimc's photostream)

RIP, Erik "Possum Man" Stewart

Erik "Possum Man" Stewart was one of my oldest, dearest friends. He died last week, of a sudden and freak cerebral hemorrhage. It happened while he slept, and his housemates found him the next day, appearing peaceful and not distressed. The coroner believes that his death was instant.

Possum was the epitome of happy mutanthood. We were roommates off and on for more than a decade, and in that time, I was privileged to get a front-row seat for many of his delightful and odd experiments and outlooks. For one thing, he was obsessed with multidimensional space. From a very early age, he worked out a system for visualizing up to seven spatial dimensions. The system was very intuitive for him, less so for everyone else. He decided that the way to convey it would be through simple games that ramped up from 3D to 4D and onward. Back in the 1980s, he spent hours grinding away at his 386, writing an assembler and C program to run a 4D Pong. For a while, he worked at porting this to the Newton (I forget what it was about Newtons that made them seem appropriate for this project, but he had a reason -- he always had a reason). The project popped up, off and on, for many years.

Possum juggled. He made stereoscopes. After reading Understanding Comics, he became an avid creator of comics. He tried at one point to train his eyes to focus independently (because he wanted to be able to walk and read a book at the same time while paying attention to both), but gave it up when the optometrist ordered him to. He was accomplished at yoga, relished communal living, and was consumed with the idea of democratic, unstructured learning.

I met Possum at SEED alternative school in Toronto, where he was studying a wide variety of subjects, many of which he excelled at (he was often engaged in courses that he had no natural aptitude for, because pursuing that sort of thing made for a great challenge). He refused all grades and credits for his work, and eventually finished there and "graduated" while refusing a diploma as well. Quantifying learning cheapened it. The idea that one can become a 100 percent master of anything nontrivial is absurd on its face.

Possum went on to co-found the AnarchistU project, a radical peer-education system wherein prospective teachers propose a course by posting readings and lectures to a wiki, and prospective students edit the wiki with the teacher until it gets to something they all want to participate in, then they find a room and start meeting. Everyone I've met in the AnarchistU orbit loves it, and Possum doted on it.

More than anything else, Possum was absolutely fearless. He was totally unafraid of seeming foolish or ridiculous, and was able to laugh along with other people when one of his experiments went comically awry. It wasn't that Possum didn't care about what other people thought -- he was one of the most compassionate people I've ever known -- but his own sense of self-worth wasn't based on what other people thought of him.

Possum was a glorious and frustrating conversationalist. Not being afraid of seeming stupid, he would cheerfully question anything you said that he didn't understand. He didn't seem to mind detours. He wasn't talking with you to get somewhere: he was talking to find out where he would get to. Any conversation with Possum Man was conducted on a narrow ledge over a deep chasm of meta, and at any given moment, he might happily plunge off the ledge, wearing wings he'd fashioned from wax and feathers, and take you with him for a swoop.

All of Possum's friends are in a state of shock, as is his family. He is being cremated, and the family has planned a celebration of his life in Toronto for June 27. We will gather to remember him at 2PM at the Mount Pleasant Visitation Centre, on the east side of Mount Pleasant cemetery. I've bought my plane ticket. A good many of Possum's friends are Boing Boing readers. If you know some of the people whose lives were touched by Possum, please pass this on to them.

Don Hutton, another of Possum's friends, set up this site as a place where photos and remembrances of Possum can be posted.

Goodbye Possum. Thank you for a lifetime of friendship, challenge, and inspiration. You juggled flaming torches at our housewarming party and we learned to scuba dive together. I never saw you angry, and I never saw you compromise on a matter of principle. There was never another like you.

RIP Jay Kay Klein: Fandom's Photographer Rests in Peace

Spider Robinson writes:

I just received word that Jay Kay Klein, THE photographer of science fiction and fantasy, passed away on Sunday morning, May 13, in a Catholic hospice (a "Francis House") in Syracuse, NY, at age 80, of esophageal cancer.

This sad news came to me today by phone from Craig Peterson, a local plumber and a great-souled man, whom Jay Kay originally hired to fix a bathroom faucet in his longtime home in Bridgeport, NY....and who then, miraculously, took it upon himself to become Jay Kay's final friend, exactly what he needed, helping him with his constrained living situation (Jay Kay's late wife had been a serious hoarder), plowing his driveway, and (all gods be thanked) helping him get his immense and precious collection of over 65,000 negatives of virtually everyone in our field over a 40-year+ period safely to the University of California's Riverside Libraries Eaton Collection of SF & Fantasy. Jeanne would have called Craig a true bodhisattva.

Craig's been going through Jay Kay's address book all day, calling people like Fred Pohl, Bob Madle, and me. He tells me an exhibition and celebration of Jay Kay's photos will be mounted at Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention (Aug 30-Sep 3), by Melissa Conway, the Head Librarian at Riverside Libraries, who now has charge of the collection.

Read the rest

RIP, Donald "Duck" Dunn

The incomparably rhythmic bass player Donald "Duck" Dunn, who was the soul of Booker T's rhythm section and the heart of the Blues Brothers' band, is dead. He died on tour with Steve "The Colonel" Cropper, also of the Blues Brothers, in Japan. He was 70.

His friend and fellow musician Steve Cropper, who was on the same tour, said Dunn had died in his sleep.

"Today I lost my best friend," Cropper wrote on his Facebook page. "The World has lost the best guy and bass player to ever live".

Miho Harasawa, a spokeswoman for Tokyo Blue Note, the last venue Dunn played, confirmed he died alone early Sunday. She had no further details.

Booker T bassist Donald Dunn dies in Tokyo aged 70

Sendak-ian Avengers

DeviantArt's ~AgarthanGuide created this Maurice Sendak/Avengers mashup: "Two things on my mind today: RIP Maurice Sendak. Yay Avengers. Okay- I put together some wallpapers using the original- I tried to make them as big as possible and cover the major aspect ratios. You can download them here. Enjoy!"

Avengers on Parade (RIP Maurice Sendak) (via Super Punch)

When Art Spiegelman visited Maurice Sendak

"Childhood is cannibals and psychotics vomiting in your mouth!" Art Spiegelman drew his experience of hanging out with Maurice Sendak in 1993 for the New Yorker, and the magazine has "unlocked" the archival link in honor of Sendak's passing today.

(via Neil Gaiman)

RIP, Maurice Sendak

Beloved children's author Maurice Sendak, creator of Where the Wild Things Are, is dead at 83. Here's some of what The Guardian's Michelle Pauli has to say about him.

The wild things of Max's imagination were based on Sendak's own relatives. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Polish Jewish immigrant parents and was aware, in his early teens, of the death of much of his extended family in the Holocaust. The terrors of his childhood specifically, and childhood more generally, flow through his work. "I refuse to lie to children," he said in an interview with the Guardian last year. "I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence."

Sendak also said that the term "children's illustrator" annoyed him, since it seems to belittle his talent. "I have to accept my role. I will never kill myself like Vincent Van Gogh. Nor will I paint beautiful water lilies like Monet. I can't do that. I'm in the idiot role of being a kiddie book person," he said.

"I refuse to lie to children," is probably the best kids'-author manifesto statement ever.

Maurice Sendak, father of the Wild Things, dies at 83

(Image: Wild Things, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from maxbraun's photostream)

RIP, Moebius

Jean Giraud, the comics artist who worked under the name Moebius, has died at the age of 73. Moebius defined the style of Metal Hurlant/Heavy Metal, a surreal, madcap, sometimes grotesque science fictional visual style that is often imitated but which Moebius himself produced to high spec and in such great amounts. On, art director Irene Gallo remembers him: "He was a particular favorite among his fellow artists. Many creatives and readers will mourn his passing." Neil Gaiman also has words on his passing:

I couldn’t actually figure out what the Moebius stories were about, but I figured that was because my French wasn’t up to it. (I could get the gist of the Richard Corben Den story, and loved that too, and not just because of the nakedness, but the Moebius stories were obviously so much deeper.)

I read the magazine over and over and envied the French because they had everything I dreamed of in comics - beautifully drawn, visionary and literate comics, for adults. I just wished my French was better, so I could understand the stories (which I knew would be amazing).

I wanted to make comics like that when I grew up.

I finally read the Moebius stories in that Metal Hurlant when I was in my 20s, in translation, and discovered that they weren’t actually brilliant stories. More like stream-of-consciousness art meets Ionesco absurdism. The literary depth and brilliance of the stories had all been in my head. Didn’t matter. The damage had long since been done.

I recently reviewed The Incal, Moebius and Jodorowsky's bizarre, classic, lately reprinted science fiction comic.

RIP, Anne McCaffrey

One of the greats of science fiction and fantasy literature, Anne McCaffrey, is reported to have died. She will be missed. Our condolences to Todd McCaffrey and the rest of her family.

Obit for Michael S Hart, ebook inventor and Gutenberg Project founder

In this week's Observer, a heartfelt obituary from John Naughton for Michael S Hart, founder of the Gutenberg Project, and inventor of ebooks:
Those who knew him testify that Michael Hart was an extraordinary individual – idiosyncratic, original, humane, determined and generous to a fault. He never made much money, repaired his own car, had scant faith in medicine and built most of his own electronic gear from stuff he picked up in garage sales. On Saturday mornings over breakfast in the local diner, he would work out the optimum route to cover the maximum number of garage sales that day; it was his version of the travelling salesman problem in mathematics.

In his obituary of Hart, his colleague Gregory Newby described him as an "unreasonable" man, in George Bernard Shaw's celebrated use of the term. "Reasonable people," wrote Shaw, "adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people."

So farewell Michael Hart, the genius who freed up literature

(Image: Brewster Kahle)