Category: In Memorium

I have a Jerry Pournelle story.

“We have an unusual request about this week’s security bulletins release. If you have the time can you talk to someone on the phone?” This was from my Waggener Edstrom liaison.

It was 2004 and I would get these requests often in my part time role as communications person for Microsoft’s Security Response Center. The PR team and I would weigh who the request came from, their audience, and several other factors in deciding who we would get on the phone with as opposed to responding in email. Not for spin or positioning purposes, (you can’t really spin a security vulnerability although many have tried. They tried and failed? No. They tried and died) but more use of time vs. how many people would be reached.

“Sure.” I said. “What’s the outlet?”

Waggener Edstrom has served as the major PR firm for Microsoft for such a long time. There’s a reason for that, they are whip smart and I knew that if they were asking for my phone time it was worth doing.

“It’s a gentleman who runs a fairly well-subscribed newsletter, he’s written for Byte and a lot of other publications back in the day. His questions are mostly technical about the attack vector, it seems like a good place to get any additional information out.”

It was a slow day for me, a Thursday as I recall and our monthly release had happened that Tuesday so most of the pressing outlets like CNN or the LAtimes/Boston Globe/NYT gamut or Wired or whatever had already had their calls with me, so I said sure let me set up a 30 minute block of time and give me five minutes prep for us to decide whether or not to do this or over email.

I stupidly never asked who the gentleman was who I would be talking to.

Ok prep for the call time. I’m in my office which back then was decorated in what my Wagg Ed support team referred to as “affluent freshman college dorm room” style. I had cool lava lamps and a projector with a liquid oil pattern cast on the wall, blacklights, a nice futon etc. Meetings all over the MSRC were sometimes held in my office just because. Once, our fearless leader kicked me out of my own office to have a meeting, but that was before we started pranking his office with greek architecture. I digress.

I picked up the phone for the prep, keep in mind my role here in my life was directly communicate guidance for Microsoft customers in regards to security threats and vulnerabilities and patches. We’re 60 seconds into the prep discussion when I finally open the newsletter and look at the web page and find out the caller is going to be

Jerry. Fucking. Pournelle.

*record scratch* *narrator voice* This is me, you may be wondering how I got here.

Well let’s start with The Mote in God’s Eye. The Niven and Pournelle team-up was formative for me because their voices were so interesting individually, but that story meshes so seamlessly (unlike say a Peter Straub/ Stephen King mashup which worked so brilliantly *because* of the slight tonal discord) that it made me seek out all of Pournelle’s other work. I had already consumed Niven’s.

“We’re taking this call” I blurted. “We are taking this fucking call. We are sooooo taking this call.”

I think I freaked the PR team out a little bit.

So now I’m 60 seconds away from speaking to Jerry. Fucking. Pournelle. In some random space in my life where his interests and my role collided and neither had anything to do with the fact I was a huge fan. I knew about his newsletter and website and his interest in computers and tech, I just had no idea *that* was the person I was going to talk to. And now it was my job.

Be cool man. Be cool.

Now I’m on the phone with him. He asks how I am and how my day is. I managed somehow to hold it together and chat like all this was perfectly normal but I didn’t trust myself to not screw it all up so I just said “before we get to your questions, if I may, your fiction has been a huge influence on me. I’m a fan and I’m a little weirded out that I’m talking to you”

I know that’s what I said, verbatim, because I had it typed in notepad to read from so I would not screw it up.

He laughed and spent like the next two minutes just sort of shooting the shit with me. Then he delved into his questions which were clearly from someone who wasn’t just a hobbyist, he understood the ins and outs of the threat and he wanted to articulate why applying the updates was important in the newsletter.

At one point I got bold. I said, “Well on the one hand the attacker could do X but on the gripping hand the patch does Y.”

He stopped me. “If I were to use that, there would be three elements, with the “on the gripping hand” being always the third. That’s how moties work. It helps see past a binary choice!”

I still use this today. I say things often like so: “On the one hand X, on the other hand Y. But on the Gripping hand….” and when it gets spotted by people for the reference I usually get an email or nod to the effect “I got what ya did there” and when people are confused I get to explain it and introduce them to The Mote in God’s Eye.

I have Jerry to thank for that. The call was simple and perfunctory, we got his questions answered, he was gracious and kind with my fanboyism. But that moment where he took an element of such a foundational influence that he and Niven had written and riffed it as “No no no say it like this, and people will get it” was one of those moments in my life where I was flummoxed and not at the same time, and won’t ever forget.

We never spoke again, I cannot claim to have known him or that we were Facebook friends or anything. I doubt he would have even recalled the conversation within a month or two of it just because he probably had lots of conversations like that with people.

I am just one more of millions affected by his work in some way saying, thanks Jerry. Thanks for the stories.

In Memorium: Ryan Davis.

I wanted to let some time pass before I posted this. I struggled with whether or not to add the humorous moments in it. But I think it’s something Ryan would have wanted.



It was a hundred degrees in Austin. I never understood why cities where it climbs that high temperature-wise have airports mostly made of glass, allowing the sun to magnify the heat. Airports where you can claim it’s air conditioned but the ambient temperature at any given point in the place is 78. I was standing outside the gate for my first leg of my trip home, to Dallas then on to Seattle, waiting for my boarding group to be called.

I was operating on about three hours of sleep having just finished a fantastic weekend at RTX 2013, and having just gotten the worst news possible for a gamer. I was trying to figure out how I was going to do 8 hours of travel without breaking down at least for a bit.

Ryan Davis of had passed away peacefully at home of natural causes.* I’d heard the news in passing just an hour before and had to call e to confirm it. Even after I hung up with him I still was not processing it.

The gate agent came on the speaker.

This is American Airlines service from Austin to Dallas now announcing boarding for all American Airlines Platinum Plus members.

My ticket read that I was in boarding group two. I thought back to the first time I met Ryan.


I had already been a Giantbomb fan for a long time when I got the opportunity to see their live podcast (heretofore referred to as its rightful name The Bombcast) at PAX 2010. I was especially excited because of all the people I knew who were on it in addition to people I was a fan of: Michael Pachter, Gary Whitta, Jeff Green, etc.

It was for me the first time I had gotten to see the Giantbomb crew in person. I’d seen their pictures of course and the occasional Internet video but those things were nothing compared to the real thing for a fan of a show that delved so honestly into gaming and gaming culture.

Afterwards I managed to catch Ryan. I introduced myself as the “Head of Enforcement for Xbox LIVE.”

He blinked a minute as he was shaking my hand. I explained, “Head Banhammer.”

He threw back his head and laughed and clapped both his hands on my shoulders.

“Oh my god you’re Stepto! You have the shittiest job in the world!”

When Ryan grabbed you liked that and laughed like that, *and* knew who you are, it was like feeling you made the big time.


This is American Airlines service from Austin to Dallas now announcing boarding for all American Airlines Platinum members, Platinum Alliance members, and One World Platinum Alliance members.


Over the next year Ryan and I would trade emails or twitter comments. There’s this weird world now where you can be a continent away from people you make a physical connection with friendship wise and that just carries through to social media. Ryan was well known for his wit and humor, but as a gamer he was someone who embodied the very concept I try to espouse of “Be excellent to each other”**

When Gary and I had problems with the new SimCity Beta in building our cities, Ryan immediately tried to help us:


When he tore apart a game he didn’t demean it, he honestly gave criticism on how it could be better. And if a game was bad, he tried to see what nuggets of good were in it.

How many people in the snark-filled festival that is our Internet commentary can say that?


This is American Airlines service from Austin to Dallas now announcing boarding for all American Airlines Ruby members, Flawed Ruby members, Premium Plus Alliance members, and Guild Navigators members.


Ryan and company asked myself and my friend e to be on the e3 Bombcast for the 2011 e3 which is where Microsoft announced a project e and I had been working on for quite some time: Kinect.

We were going to be on with Gary, and Jonathan Blow. This resulted in the infamous “Jonathan Blow vs. Microsoft” discussion. The thing I remember most about this was that A) HOLY CRAP BUCKETS OF CRAP I’M ON THE BOMBCAST and B) how Ryan and the Giantbomb crew were this bizarre and awesome mix of laid back and professional.

“Grab a beer, sit over there, oh we need a sound check. Ok remember the Internet is listening.”

The conversation devolved so totally into inside baseball. Jonathan had legit criticisms about Xbox LIVE policies and e and I had legit explanations. Everyone to this day thinks e and I hate Jonathan from that exchange. Truth be told, just afterwards we all exited the house where the podcast was being recorded and said “wow what a fun time!” and Jonathan gave e and I a ride back downtown.

While the fans and commentators devolved quite rapidly into calling e and I shills for a corporate monster that wanted to destroy all good and the entire episode the worst ever, later Ryan told me it was by far the most substantive and fun podcast for him he’d done yet.

“But your fans hated it,” I said.

“Oh those guys. I mean I love them, but I do this for stuff we would never get to do otherwise! I think it was one of the best discussions we’ve ever had. How often do you get to argue the rules of Xbox LIVE in front of both sides of the story?” he laughed.

Ryan’s laugh was his sincerity.


This is American Airlines service from Austin to Dallas now announcing boarding for all American Airlines Passengers who are Service Members in Uniform, First Class, Coach Class Plus Alliance members, and any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who may be flying today.


My last interaction with Ryan is the one that, if I had not had the privilege of knowing him, would break my heart. Instead it reminds me of how full of life he was.

He once again invited me to the Bombcast for e3 2013 and I invited e too since I thought it would be fun.

The Bombcast was in what was *obviously* a porn studio.

No, really, it was a building filled with rooms all done up in different styles of porn sets, from bedroom to school room to office (black couch included!) to where we ended up: a law office boardroom complete with a wall of law books. I mean real law books.  At one point in the podcast I made some arcane reference and Ryan used one of the law books in the room to call me out on it and it was classic Ryan.

When Ryan made fun of you, he wasn’t demeaning you. He was bringing you down to size. He wasn’t belittling you. When Ryan made a joke about something you said, he made you feel like the center of the world. Like he was your friend and he was just talking to you not talking to the entire Internet just to be clever.

Ryan was about a week from getting married. We were all teasing his obvious excitement before recording. I shook his hand when I left and he said he wanted us on again soon. I congratulated him on his impending wedding, and that was the last time I spoke to him.


The curse of Internet friends is that we have this web that connects us and when we see each other in person it’s a big bright moment for us. But when those friends are taken from us we have a harder time believing they are gone because their physical presence is such an abstract and wonderful surprise.

I boarded my plane finally and struggled to cope with how much I’m going to miss that man. Our industry and the world in general is less without him.



*I’m sick and tired of the Internet speculation. Ryan’s family has made the statement it was natural causes. There’s no need to delve any further.

**Stolen from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but a mantra we need on the Internet so much right now.