ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Five Better Heroes —

I was going to rip someone apart today.

Believe it or not, I do actually have safety valves; friends I talk to who sometimes dissuade me from extraordinarily suicidal or at least ill-advised acts. This was one of them. “No point,” was the thought. “Why kick someone for no good reason,” “The fans will just attack you and you’ll convert nobody”, and so on. And they’re right. Life’s too full of haters, I won’t achieve anything by being yet another one using his sitting position in front of the Square Eye as a bully pulpit.

No, instead I’m going to go in the other direction and suggest five people who are, to me, worthy of cult hero status who don’t generally have it. They have a bit of it, of course, because I’m being a fanboy in my descriptions of them, but I don’t see them being invited to speak at conventions, I don’t see people rushing for their opinion on every little thing, and I don’t see them being heralded outside of relatively smaller groups. The ones I chose for today are alive, smart, funny, and worth knowing better. Take a shot at it.

EUGENE JARVIS. Videogame programmer extraordinaire is one thing; there’s a lot of guys like that. But beyond that, Jarvis is an incredible speaker and an amazing personality. He lights up the room, and he shares his thoughts freely. He created or co-created the classic videogames Robotron, Defender, Stargate, NARC, Crusin’ USA, and a ton of other similar projects. People who go to classic video game shows know what I know: the more you hear from Jarvis, the better off you are.

AL KOSSOW. Start with me. Make me much less of an asshole. Make me a couple decades older so I actually accomplished stuff. Replace “documentaries” with “radio shows”. Replace “BBSes” with “Video Games”. Double my skills, half my self-aggrandizement. You will end up with someone similar to Al Kossow. Curator of, which is just a great historical archive, and now recently a curator at the Computer History Museum, Al is truly a technological hero. His efforts at preservation of computer and video game history have been vital keystones in what we all have available to us today. He forgets more in a week than most “old-schoolers” could ever begin to talk about. Hero.

NEAL E. WOOD. This is the guy who thought it might be a good idea to cut small indentations in the shoulder of highways, causing a vibration through a car and waking the driver who was dozing. Called the Sonic Nap Alert Pattern (SNAP), it’s also been called a “rumble strip”. This guy’s invention saved my life. Get him in front of a camera or a podium. At the very least, realize it’s these guys, who come up with little simple ideas and get them implemented, that change the world for the better.

STEVYN IRONFEATHER. Don’t worry, it’s a pseudonym. Stevyn has been a Zine guy for nearly two decades, and blends all the best parts of that culture into one person. He lives in Denver, where he has a nice Book and Zine shop. The editor of the Iron Feather Journal, a staple of Zines since forever, and the template that a lot of people trying to be “interesting” should pick up. Makes the world a much more interesting place, and the more of people like that the better.

BENJAMIN FRY Ph.D. from MIT, Benjamin Fry makes things clearer. Much clearer. And cooler. Everything he touches, he seems to make into an even cooler thing than before. He takes things like Mario or paper airplanes or code layout or differences in programming and makes your eyes bug out. He’s a creator of the graphics/coolness program Processing, whose job is to make everything you see and know cooler. In other words, Ben Fry created an infinitely tireless Ben Fry you can download. Were that everyone else so cool did such things!

I welcome other suggestions of heroes.

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  1. leahpeah says:

    those are great. where are the women heroes in your life? or have there been none?

  2. Jason Scott says:

    Well now, let’s go there!

    Jeri Ellsworth. (C64 Genius)
    Susan Kare. (Creator of the Macintosh Icons)
    Etaoin Shrdlu. (Hacker)
    Shary Flenniken. (Artist)
    Emily Short. (Interactive Fiction Theorist/Author)

    The main list wasn’t meant to be “the heroes in my life” specifically. Just underappreciated ones that I said are worth checking out. And not the only five either.

  3. leahpeah says:

    thanks, jason. i’d love to hear more about Etaoin Shrdlu sometime. i’m sure there is an awesome story there. i really like shary f’s work and emily short rocks.

  4. Not only does Al “forget more in a week than most old-schoolers could ever begin to talk about”, he also locates, preserves, and makes available more primary source historical information than anyone could hope to do in a decade, he’s one productive dude. Al is cool.

  5. Al Kossow says:

    People tell me I blush a lot.
    Just did so when I ran across this.