John Walker, RIP

 

John Walker (via X)

It was in December, and I can’t tell you the exact year, but I can tell you where I was. I was on Highway 5, driving up from Los Angeles to San Francisco, to a meeting with the rest of the Ricochet team. We had decided that we needed to shut the project down. It had been a noble experiment, we told ourselves, but a failure. We just didn’t have enough members to keep the thing going.

The last thing I did before hitting the road was make a post, entitled “The End of Ricochet” — it might have had a question mark at the end, I can’t quite recall — but by the time I got to the Bay Area a lot of folks had responded — enough to keep the thing going for another few months, enough to help us figure out another way to stay alive.

One member in particular, John Walker, sent us an email. He’d like to know what kind of money we needed, not just to keep going but to grow and flourish. He was a tech entrepreneur, the brilliant founder of Autodesk, a 3D design software company with impact in nearly every global industry. (He tried to explain it to me many times, but all I really understood was that John Walker was a mad genius.) He lived in a chalet in Switzerland — “Like a Bond villain?” I asked on one of our phone calls — and tinkered and invented and wrote and lived exactly like a restless and brilliant polymath.

With a big investment from John, we managed to grow and (not exactly) thrive: we did some necessary work transferring our site to a more stable and extensible content management system, and we came to admire this razor smart, prickly, eccentric thinker with high standards for code and computer engineering and a willingness to explain to smaller brains, like mine, how it was all supposed to work. He even sent me a PDF of his weight loss book — talk about a polymath! — and it worked. (For a time, anyway, but that wasn’t John’s fault….)

If you’re a member of Ricochet, you should know that you have John Walker to thank. And you should also know — and some of you already know this — that John soured a bit (a lot?) on the leadership of this experiment (ahem) and pulled away from it in later years. When you work with people of genius, that kind of thing happens. But it doesn’t diminish our gratitude and respect and awe for this amazing man.

John Walker died on February 2nd, in Neuchatel, Switzerland, following a bad fall down the stairs. He will be buried, we are told, in a pasture a short walk from his house.

In a New Year’s post on the site that he ran, Scanalyst, John wrote: “Let’s celebrate the possibilities of an unbounded future and remember it’s up to us to build the future in which we wish to live. Only the past is written.” John did exactly that with his life, his work, and Ricochet.

From the very start, Ricochet has always been about the members. Those who post often, those who only chime in now and then, those who read and nod along (or don’t nod along) — we’re all part of this experiment in group conversation and debate which has been going along for a decade and more. Today, tonight, send a prayer of gratitude to one of our fellow members, an unforgettable, singular man who kept the lights burning in this place with generosity and wit and passion, who was always a friend in the real sense of the word.

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  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Thanks, Rob.

    • #1
  2. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Amazing story!  I didn’t know about Walker’s generous support for our website.

    • #2
  3. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    “The End of Ricochet” had to be 2012.  I remember that post. It was on the Main Feed.  It did have a question mark. Janet talked me into joining Ricochet as a result of it, and I joined in December 2012. (She liked the Ricochet Podcast.)

    • #3
  4. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz
    @drlorentz

    Rob Long:

     

    John Walker died on February 2nd, in Neuchatel, Switzerland, following a bad fall down the stairs. He will be buried, we are told, in a pasture a short walk from his house.

    Correction: he will be buried in a pasture at his and his wife’ss property on the Isle of Man. Details matter. 

    • #4
  5. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Condolences to Walker’s family and friends, and to you too Rob.

    I didn’t recognize the name, but from having dropped in at Autodesk with a couple of friends who had an idea that perhaps Autodesk would be interested in, I recognized the face. (This would have been in the 90’s sometime.)

    Anyway, although Autodesk’s execs weren’t interested, they were cordial and encouraging. The entire company had so much going for it, thanks in part to Walker and the other top people keeping it up and running.

    It is quite interesting to find out he had a role to play in establishing Ricochet, but not at all surprising.

    ####

    • #5
  6. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    I didn’t know that John Walker was Ricochet’s financial savior, but I enjoyed his science posts.

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    “The End of Ricochet” had to be 2012. I remember that post. It was on the Main Feed. It did have a question mark. Janet talked me into joining Ricochet as a result of it, and I joined in December 2012. (She liked the Ricochet Podcast.)

    I didn’t look it up, the link for that post was passed on to me. 

    • #6
  7. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    Steven Seward (View Comment):

    Amazing story! I didn’t know about Walker’s generous support for our website.

    Agreed, amazing and I never knew that either. Probably John Walker wanted it that way.

    • #7
  8. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    John was always an impressive intellectual. I don’t usually feel intimated by big brain types but with him. I felt like an illiterate peasant talking to Einstein about the stars.

    • #8
  9. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    Thank You, Mr. Walker.

    • #9
  10. She Member
    She
    @She

    I remember. Rest in peace. 

    • #10
  11. Jim Chase Member
    Jim Chase
    @JimChase

    Thanks, Rob, for sharing that story.

    • #11
  12. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Jim Chase (View Comment):

    Thanks, Rob, for sharing that story.

    I didn’t either. Thanks, Rob.

    • #12
  13. Michael Minnott Member
    Michael Minnott
    @MichaelMinnott

    Thank you, Mr. Long, for a very thoughtful post.

    • #13
  14. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    My favorite John Walker post was one where he pointed out we (humans) had already geoengineered the planet, within our food production industry through nitrogen capture an utilization. He was always informative and engaging.

    Rest in peace,  John. Prayers for your family.

    • #14
  15. W Bob Member
    W Bob
    @WBob

    https://ricochet.com/178964/the-end-of-ricochet/

     

    • #15
  16. W Bob Member
    W Bob
    @WBob

    Does anyone know how to search your own comments from specific years? I had some real interesting conversations with John on here and I wanted to check them out. All I can see is the function where you have to start at one end of your membership time or the other and click over and over over again to slowly move toward the other end.

    • #16
  17. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    W Bob (View Comment):

    Does anyone know how to search your own comments from specific years? I had some real interesting conversations with John on here and I wanted to check them out. All I can see is the function where you have to start at one end of your membership time or the other and click over and over over again to slowly move toward the other end.

    No such capability currently exists, as far as I know.  Maybe we’ll get lucky and Ricochet 5.0 will have better search capabilities.

    • #17
  18. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    I first encountered John via his weight loss pamphlet. Or book maybe, I read it online. It was bollocks, by the way, some dubious analogy between a soft bag with a fire burning in there somewhere and the human body. 

    Brilliant guy tho. Too bad about the Ratburger thing. That was Ricochet’s loss. 

    • #18
  19. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    W Bob (View Comment):

    Does anyone know how to search your own comments from specific years? I had some real interesting conversations with John on here and I wanted to check them out. All I can see is the function where you have to start at one end of your membership time or the other and click over and over over again to slowly move toward the other end.

    And there’s only 10 per “page” which is nutz.

    • #19
  20. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    W Bob (View Comment):

    Does anyone know how to search your own comments from specific years? I had some real interesting conversations with John on here and I wanted to check them out. All I can see is the function where you have to start at one end of your membership time or the other and click over and over over again to slowly move toward the other end.

    That does indeed suck, with great suction.

    • #20
  21. aardo vozz Member
    aardo vozz
    @aardovozz

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    “The End of Ricochet” had to be 2012. I remember that post. It was on the Main Feed. It did have a question mark. Janet talked me into joining Ricochet as a result of it, and I joined in December 2012. (She liked the Ricochet Podcast.)

    IIRC, Janet was “ Quilter”?🤔

    • #21
  22. Acook Coolidge
    Acook
    @Acook

    I’m mostly a lurker on here, but I remember John Walker’s posts, since I have a scientific background and I liked them. I was sorry when he left. Went to Ratburger occasionally just to see what he had to say. 
    On January 3 I fell down a flight of stairs, a primitive flight of stairs made of railroad ties while out hiking, and was left with only cuts and bruises. What a difference in outcome. Felt a chill wind pass over me when I read about Walker.
    RIP. 

    • #22
  23. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    aardo vozz (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    “The End of Ricochet” had to be 2012. I remember that post. It was on the Main Feed. It did have a question mark. Janet talked me into joining Ricochet as a result of it, and I joined in December 2012. (She liked the Ricochet Podcast.)

    IIRC, Janet was “ Quilter”?🤔

    Yes.  She did not want her name used online.

    • #23
  24. JustmeinAZ Member
    JustmeinAZ
    @JustmeinAZ

    I remember John fondly. Mostly because anything he wrote was way over my head but made me feel good that I had the good sense to belong to anything he felt was of value.

    • #24
  25. She Member
    She
    @She

    Barfly (View Comment):

    W Bob (View Comment):

    Does anyone know how to search your own comments from specific years? I had some real interesting conversations with John on here and I wanted to check them out. All I can see is the function where you have to start at one end of your membership time or the other and click over and over over again to slowly move toward the other end.

    That does indeed suck, with great suction.

    Indeed it does.  As does the fact that–in the old days–it was possible to search the “archive” site, when you thought you had a fix on approximately when something was posted.  

    That’s gone now, too.  So–AFAIK–there’s no way to find a post based on its publication date.

    • #25
  26. She Member
    She
    @She

    Rob Long: If you’re a member of Ricochet, you should know that you have John Walker to thank. And you should also know — and some of you already know this — that John soured a bit (a lot?) on the leadership of this experiment (ahem) and pulled away from it in later years. When you work with people of genius, that kind of thing happens. But it doesn’t diminish our gratitude and respect and awe for this amazing man.

    Full credit for this.

    About fifteen months after the events described in this post, I was invited to join a “Ricochet Technology Advisory Group” based on recognized mistakes that the site had made, and upon on my own professional credentials (which are not insubstantial) and which group included members such as FG, DT, WS, JW, and some others.

    I responded thus, must have been in late Spring of 2014:

    Hi [FG]

    I’d be delighted! Not only because I love Ricochet and I’d like to help in whatever way I can, but also because I think that if you’re going to shoot your mouth off to the extent that I have, you need to stand up and be counted when the time comes.

    I think my strengths lie in the prioritization of feature/function/benefit, in helping to insure consistency in the user interface, in rigorous and thorough testing and in the timely production of clear prose when it’s needed for documentation or explanation. I am also a tireless user advocate with a very informed perspective of what has to go on on the back end to make things work.

    I’m not given to blather on when I don’t know what I’m talking about. If I don’t know something, I’m very willing to say so. And if I need help, I’ll ask.

    I’m not a programmer. I accept the constraints of implementation methodologies because it’s impossible to get stuff done well without them. I follow the rules and I’m a team player. But if I think some of the rules need to be broken or changed, I’ll say so. After we fight it out, and a final decision is made, I’ll support it.

    My weaknesses are that I have a finite amount of patience, and I do not suffer fools gladly. Fortunately, I think Ricochet is mostly bereft of fools, and I certainly don’t see any on that very distinguished list of Ricochet members you’ve solicited. I’m honored that you’ve included me among them.

    Let me know what I can do.

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Too bad about the Ratburger thing. That was Ricochet’s loss.

    Yes, it was. Something which resulted from the careless dismissal of the fact that someone else might have known more than we did..

    • #26
  27. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    I met John in person some years ago, in Geneva. We talked engineering for the better part of three hours. 

    He was a remarkable man who changed the course of history, and for the better. Look up his impact on the design of DRAM.

    • #27
  28. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Thank you for a heartfelt description of John Walker. I didn’t know any of this, and very sad to hear what happened to him. It sounds however, like a life well lived, and I am grateful for all his talents and contributions to this world, like Ricochet.  This site is an inspiration to so many and you never stop learning or laughing as a member.  The world needs this on-line place for many reasons. We even swap Christmas cards and have a cat club……!…..

    God bless Mr. Walker.

    • #28
  29. Richard O'Shea Coolidge
    Richard O'Shea
    @RichardOShea

    Thank you John for what you did for Ricochet.  I had no idea. RIP.

    • #29
  30. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    She (View Comment):
    That’s gone now, too.  So–AFAIK–there’s no way to find a post based on its publication date.

    I estimate the page and type it in the address to get close.

    • #30
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