• United States
Neal Weinberg
Contributing writer, Foundry

Living on virtually

Dec 12, 20055 mins
Enterprise Applications

A late industry analyst’s life is celebrated online.

Take Terry Shannon, for example. The influential technology industry analyst and writer died on May 26, but a half-year later his own Web site lives on as a permanent memorial where friends from all over the world continue to post remembrances, condolences and words of comfort to his family.

Shannon was best known for his uncanny ability to find out what was happening inside Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC). For many years, he wrote under the name Charlie Matco, “the invisible person who was under every desk at Digital Equipment Corporation,” as one poster put it.

A Vietnam veteran, Shannon started out in IT in the 1970s, operating an IBM System 360. He bought his first VAX in 1982 and wrote the first VAX/VMS user manual. Over the years, he was a writer for DECpro and Digital Review, as well as an independent analyst, newsletter writer and a frequent speaker at Digital user group conferences all over the world.

After Digital ceased to exist, his “Shannon Knows DEC” newsletter morphed into “Shannon Knows Compaq” and most recently “Shannon Knows High Performance Computing.” His last post was a short report on HP’s quarterly dividend. Shannon died later that day at age 52.

His friend Ken Farmer, who hosts a number of Web sites, including Shannon’s, got the news a few days later. Farmer kept the message board open and encouraged people to contribute.

“I decided to convert his site from a news site to a place where people can put their condolences, and I decided to surround it with things important to him. It only makes sense [to create an online memorial] when the other side of the globe becomes your local town,” he says.

Jeffrey Cole, director of the University of Southern California’s Center for the Digital Future in Los Angeles, adds, “This is just another example of how the Internet is changing the nature of everything and the rules of time, distance and memory. A memorial is no longer in a depressing cemetery where only fewer and fewer see it or a service that fades quickly. The Internet brings together audio, video and text in an international memorial that stands the test of time.”

Today, Shannon’s site includes a lengthy bio, copies of his past newsletters, pictures and presentations he made at DECUS and EncompassUS shows. The most moving part of the site, however, is the comment area, which includes posts from Shannon’s best friend in high school, people he worked with early in his career, fellow Vietnam vets, friends that he met at DECUS events and admirers of his newsletter.

On June 3, the posts started showing up. Here are some excerpts:

“Charlie Matco was the very best at what he did. He was a technologist, an analyst and a muckraker; and nobody could get information the way that Charlie did. His column was so accurate that I sometimes wondered if Charlie was looking over my shoulder. Tonight I feel that the IT world has become a smaller, darker place.”

“There are few things in my life that I regret, and those are only things that I’ve not done. I regret not having known Terry better than I did. I regret not having met him. I regret having only been an acquaintance and not a friend.”

“The world is a little less bright without Terry in it. The VMS community has lost another advocate and sadly I have lost a friend to a war that never ended.”

“Sorry to read of Terry’s passing. I guess I’ll be riding the train to Perth alone.”

On June 4, Terry Shannon’s brother Scott expressed his appreciation: “Terry’s family is overwhelmed by all of your kind words, thoughts and prayers. He touched so many people in so many ways – it pleases us to know how many people cared about him. He had a tremendous mind, a unique sense of humor and will be missed by all of us.”

On June 18, an admirer wrote a small story in Wikipedia (see it here ).

On Aug. 12, Shannon’s best friend from high school posted this: “Terry (T.C.) and I were friends since high school in Syracuse, N.Y. He was my closest friend for a long time. That’s a whole lot of years ago and so I have also lost an ‘old’ friend.”

On Sept. 16, the Digital field engineer who delivered that new VAX to Shannon in 1982 logged on. “We had a special relationship and shared lots of good times over the years. I will miss him terribly.”

On Nov. 15, a co-worker revealed the origins of the Charlie Matco pseudonym. “I worked with Terry at Digital Review from 1985 to 1987; in fact, my first task, after being hired as an editorial assistant fresh out of college, was editing an article by Terry, which I think we published under the byline “Charles Matco,” since he was not yet officially working for us! I’ll always have fond memories of Terry’s sense of humor, prodigious vocabulary and friendship.”

The number of new posts has slowed, but Farmer says he has no plans to take down the site.

And Scott Shannon says the site “gave me some insight as to the number of friends and contacts that he had touched in one way or another that I would never have known about or had any way to let them know he had passed away.”

He adds that he went back and checked for new posts for about a month and “was able to incorporate some of the thoughts posted there in the remarks I made at a memorial attended by our family in July when we dispersed his ashes from a sea plane flying over the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York.”