25 December 2008


A Christmas toast to Martin and James

The Balvenie bottle 195 of 350It's been a busy Christmas, made busier by enough snow to nearly paralyze a usually not-very-snowy city like Vancouver. Yet my wife, daughters, and I were able to pilot our snow-tire-equipped Toyota Echo through the wilds of East Vancouver to my aunt and uncle's house for our traditional family Christmas Eve event. We did have to bunk out there overnight, though.

Today, Christmas Day, we made it home, cleaned up, changed, unpacked, and then ventured out to Maple Ridge for a quiet dinner with my wife's parents. The roads by then were better. Besides eating, I performed some of the usual in-laws' tech support to help my father-in-law configure their new Internet Wi-Fi radio set, and my mother-in-law create her first blog. (No content yet, so a link must wait.) With more snow forecast, we made an early night of it and returned to Burnaby again, and Christmas was complete.

Now, as the day ends, I think back not only on Christmas and my happiness at being relatively healthy again this year (tumours in my lungs are still growing, but very slowly, and maybe my new holistic health approach is assisting the cediranib in keeping them somewhat at bay), but also about the deaths of two people. They were my friend Martin Sikes, who died suddenly a year ago on the morning of Christmas Eve, after sending me what turned out to be a spooky email; and James Brown, who appropriately, somehow chose the most bombastic of days, December 25, to make his last fleet-footed shuffle off the stage.

From now on, to me, December 24 will also be Martin Day, and December 25 is JB Day. In their honour, I'm drinking my first glass of The Balvenie 15-year-old scotch whisky tonight, from a bottle given to me on my birthday in 2007 by Alistair—but which I have only now opened.

I hear the plow truck finally making a pass through our street outside, near midnight. I am exhausted, and content. Slàinte to MS and JB, and Merry Christmas to you.

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07 January 2008


Less who we were

Martin Sikes memorial 32The profound shame about yesterday's memorial event for my late friend Martin Sikes is that many of us who spoke and sang and laughed and cried there didn't take the chance to tell him why he was important to us while he was still alive.

I was glad that I both spoke and played drums at the event—being busy helped distract me a bit so I didn't cry the whole time. I certainly had to clutch my wife's hand for support.

Martin Sikes memorial 30Martin was, by any measure, an extraordinary man. Otherwise there wouldn't have been 400 people—from relatives to co-workers to high school and university chums to those who only knew him from the parties he organized—out to remember him on a sleety January Sunday afternoon. More than one person told me they were quite surprised at how many different directions, into what they thought were completely unrelated groups of their acquaintances, they discovered his influence had reached.

Martin Sikes memorial 25To find out why, you can take a look at the memorial page I set up for him, which also includes notes from several of the eulogies spoken in West Vancouver yesterday. I learned a lot about Martin from those talks, especially about his life as a kid before I knew him, and his career and pastimes over the past decade or so, when I saw him only sporadically.

I expect some of his more recent friends and acquaintances might have learned stuff too. For example, his first commercial software success, the Blue Board software he sold as a teenager from his parents' house. Or that he, as a comfortably out gay man, had a girlfriend 20 years ago. (Any of them who'd ever met his adult daughter might have deduced that, of course.) My friend Sebastien summed Martin up best by saying that he was always trying not just to have fun, but to invent fun.

Excursionists return to Denny's 1After the memorial, a bunch of Martin's old modemer Excursionist friends, including his daughter and her mom, gathered at Denny's on Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver, one of our frequent hangouts in the mid- and late 1980s. I think Martin's death hit us all harder than we might have expected. (I'm still bursting into tears at unpredictable moments today.) Like Dave wrote, we miss him more than we realized, for a panoply of reasons.

And we spoke of getting together more frequently too—some of us had not seen each other in 15 years or more. We figured out that the things we miss about Martin are also things we miss about each other. Teenage and early adult years are formative for anyone. But those of us who were part of Vancouver's early BBS community have an additional kinship of having been geeks before it was cool, and of having lived and loved and made friends (not to mention mistakes) online 10 or 20 years before the whole rest of the world started doing it.

I've said before that I have the technology and privacy instincts of a modern 17-year-old (search for me online, and you can find out almost anything you need to know, and probably more than you want). That's because when my friends and I were 17, we were already keeping in touch by flinging bits. However, perhaps uniquely, while we remember a time before email and the Internet, they were still critical components of how we grew up.

Martin Sikes memorial 54Many of us have remained in technical fields, yet have drifted in different directions. Still, when we do meet, the connection is immediate, and not merely nostalgic. At dinner, we still finished one another's sentences, even on topics (Facebook, climate change, the habits of our children) that didn't exist in our university days. After our greasy meal, I drove Larry, Bob, and Richard home across the eastern suburbs of Vancouver, and had tea at Richard's place before heading home myself. We spoke a bit about old times, but also nerded out about wireless data, servers, rebuilding houses, and fish tanks.

Who we were is also who we are. Martin was part of that, but he isn't anymore, which is one reason why losing him made us so sad. Despite his many successes, and much more than the rest of us, he had chosen to stay (or perhaps couldn't avoid remaining) the tinkering, pranking, inventing, train-obsessed, silly, party-throwing, risk-taking person he was when we were growing up together. Who we are can't be as much who we were without him.

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05 January 2008


Martin Sikes memorial tomorrow 4 p.m.

Friends and relatives of Martin Sikes have organized a celebration of his life tomorrow, Sunday, January 6, at 4:00 p.m., at the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver. Here are a couple of articles about him from the Vancouver Sun this past week:

NOTE: I've now set up a memorial page for Martin, including links to articles about him, copies of the notes from his eulogy speakers, and photos from his memorial event on January 6, 2008.

Martin Sikes obituary - Vancouver Sun, 2 Jan 2008 Martin Sikes article - Vancouver Sun, 8 Jan 2008

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