I was saddened to learn that a long-time member of the online coaster enthusiast community passed away last week. I first met Greg more than 20 years ago at a coaster event, but we kept in touch virtually during much of that time. He's one of the people that the Internet made possible as an acquaintance. It has been many years since I've seen him in person (I'm sure it was a coaster thingy), but he was present at all kinds of interesting points in time. I remember we were chatting on AOL Instant Messenger during the 9/11 attacks, as the company he worked for observed Internet traffic, and it spiked a lot, as one of the Internet's first big news events. He helped me figure out the right regular expressions to parse things in my forum project around 2000, and it's code that's still in use today. We've had countless discussions about career, as he was far more advanced than I was in terms of software engineering. We also found interesting similarities in the way advocates approach issues for diabetes and autism. He even did quite a few episodes of our old podcast, though he often complained that he didn't like the sound of his voice. In recent years, we enjoyed comparing notes about the touring musicals we saw.
I think there's a lot of focus on the negatives of the big social platforms, and these are definitely valid, but certainly the Internet has been good to bring people together as well. In coaster enthusiast circles, Greg was an OG, dating back to Usenet's rec.roller-coaster group, before the web caught on. In more recent years, maybe the coaster scene wasn't as much his thing, but if you've been able to maintain those connections, they can evolve, thus the talk of musicals.
Greg isn't the only one. We lost Pete about three years ago, and I can only describe him as everyone's drinking buddy at Cedar Point. On the CoasterBuzz/PointBuzz sites, we've also lost several people to cancer and other illnesses. Some let us know it was coming, others kind of faded into the background, and for some it was sudden.
As I slide into middle-age, I don't really think all that much about my own eventual demise, or even measure how much time I might have left. But not knowing how much time others have, people who impact your community in positive ways, that causes sadness. Greg was only 51, and I figured we had plenty more shows to talk about. It doesn't feel fair to his wife, family and friends.
I remember Greg telling me about his days at Microsoft, around the time I started there, and how he wired up one of the basic features of Excel, the spreadsheet software. Most people will never know the guy who wrote the code behind that button they pushed everyday, and I suspect that's just the kind of anonymous impact that he enjoyed having.