Diminishing degrees of separation

From: Jim Fehlinger (fehlinger@home.com)
Date: Tue May 08 2001 - 19:47:53 MDT

The search facilities provided by the new Javien host for
the Extropians' list archive resulted today in my making an
extremely startling and amusing discovery.

Before describing it, I must provide some context by
revealing a bit more (not too tedious, I hope) autobiographical
detail than I have heretofore posted on this list.

I moved to New York City at the end of 1978, following a
rather unsuccessful couple of years (almost) at an intentional
community in Virginia called Twin Oaks. While supporting
myself as a computer operator at a New York bank, I was able
to resume my abandoned college career at New York University.
After taking a computer (assembly language) course with a
grad student there named Clint Goss, who became one of the
founders of a start-up software company, I got a job in
late '81 with that start-up company, called Philon. A
lot of the folks who worked at Philon in the mid-80's have kept
in touch over the years, including Clint, another student
of his named Mark Meretzky, Mark's best friend Michael Goldfarb,
and a number of other pretty on-the-ball computer types.
Some of the friends of these friends have also been drawn into
the circle.

Last summer (July 15), I was invited to Mark's 45th birthday
party at the Greenwich Village apartment of another ex-Philon,
Benny Pollak. Also in attendance were Mark's friends Liz and
Victor Duchovni, with whom I have since become friends myself,
and who have invited me to dinner on many occasions (I've mentioned
Liz before -- she's the mathematician with the four- and six-year-old
sons, and Victor is a computer security expert at J. P. Morgan).

O.K., that was the historical background. Here's the proximate

Liz has a moderate taste for SF. She was already familiar with authors
William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (I gave her a set of CDs of Gibson
reading _Neuromancer_, which she liked a lot), but I've introduced her
more recently to Greg Egan. She loved _Permutation City_, and
has tackled _Diaspora_. Well, naturally, that led to my mentioning
the Extropians' mailing list, which she has occasionally dipped into.

One evening at dinner, Liz said to me, "Victor and I know this
guy who intends, with perfect seriousness and as matter-of-factly
as you'd talk about buying a car, to live forever. He sounds
like the kind of person who'd be interested in this Extropian
stuff. I wonder if you've ever seen anything by him on the
list? His name is Perry Metzger." I answered that he certainly
wasn't one of the more recent regulars, but that I'd poke around
in the archive and see. Listing by author in the old lucifer.com
archive, I did manage to come up with one 1997 item,
http://www.lucifer.com/exi-lists/extropians.1Q97/4197.html ,
which seemed a bit in-your-face for somebody who wasn't even a
list regular (it's a harrumph along the lines of "if you're
all so smart, how come you aren't all rich?"), but which I forwarded
to Liz for her amusement. She replied "Yep, that's Perry, all right.
Some people think he's a bit full of himself, but I like him because
he seems to me like a pussycat trying to convince everybody
he's a lion." She said she was going to invite him to her
Passover seder, and that I might get to meet him there. I was
rather looking forward to meeting this character.

I can just imagine what the conversation at the dinner table
would have been like if he had actually managed to make it
to Liz's seder:

PERRY: Well, you may not know this, but as a matter of fact
I actually **founded** the Extropians' mailing list.

ME (out loud): Oh really?

ME (to myself): Uh huh. Sure, pal, tell me about it. Good grief,
Liz warned me this guy might come off as a bit arrogant, but she
didn't tell me he was an out-and-out nut case!

No doubt, Perry would have had some cause for irritation
as I sat there smirking and glancing at Liz, who would have
been listening with a half-puzzled smile on her face and
a twinkle in her eye as if to say "I don't know what's going
to happen next, but this is turning out more interesting
than I anticipated." It might almost have been a scene
worthy of a Woody Allen movie. Unfortunately (or maybe just
as well!), Perry did **not** make it that evening.

So what did I discover today as I experimented with the search
facilities at the Javien archive? Well, as folks with more
of a clue about the history of the Extropians' than I had
will already know, I found evidence that one Perry E. Metzger
did indeed found this mailing list, for example:

Well now I'll **have** to meet him, of course -- if nothing else,
so I can plague him to add his own personal list archives
from the earliest days when he was active (which he surely must
have kept, just out of sheer ego, if he's the founder) to the
Javien archive [*]. Liz has already promised to invite him to dinner
sometime soon.

Not too long ago, I felt like a total outsider in this company,
even after having been posting for some months. Now, I feel
a bit like the long-lost step-cousin of the Crown Princess
Anastasia. ;->

Jim F.

[*] Hmm... I've just heard something that may indicate that early
participants of this list were guaranteed anonymity outside the
list membership, and that it would be a violation of an implied
contract for the archives to extend any further back than 1996.
If so, that's a shame.

The article in Wired news from a couple of weeks ago that announced
the restoration by Google of the Deja Usenet archives back to 1995
( http://www.wired.com/news/business/0,1367,43392,00.html )
seems to be playing up the embarrassment factor for folks who were
hoping some of those old posts were gone forever. I suppose it's
only a matter of time before somebody gets the bright idea to sue
Google for damages resulting from the unexpected return of an
indiscreet Usenet post.

For my part, I'd be thrilled to death if Usenet could be pushed
back even further, to the 80's, even though I myself posted some
rather indiscreet articles to soc.motss back in '88 and '89 -- you
only expected them to last a few days before being displaced by
incoming news feed, in those days.

Whatever happened to the motto "information wants to be free"?
Ah, well.


Rogues' Gallery:

Clint Goss: http://www.goss.com/rescgh.htm

Liz Duchovni: http://acf5.nyu.edu/~ed38


Mark Meretzky's 45th birthday party
(15 July 2000, at Benny's apartment)

Clint Goss, Victor Duchovni,
Mark Meretzky, and Dave Brand (all ex-Philon,
except for Victor):

Liz Duchovni (in background at left),
Mark Meretzky, Dave Lugowski (movieologist
extraordinaire, my roommate for 13 years),

Jim F. (at left, in T-shirt, blue shorts,
and sandals), Benny Pollak (blue shirt, seated, at right):

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