by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
There is no good way to say this.
On January 12th, 1996, at age 29, Robert Hess died from complications due to pneumonia.
In lieu of flowers, Robert's family has requested that contributions in Robert's name be made to DQ, 584 Castro St., #560, San Francisco, CA 94114. If you wish to make a personal remembrance of Robert, you can do so by sending email to his family at <email@example.com>.
Robert was my editor at MacWEEK, a long-time correspondent, and in one of the many strange ways of the Internet, my friend. Despite numerous attempts to hook up at various Macworlds, we only met once, at a dark and smoky Mac the Knife party at Macworld Boston in 1995, and then only for several minutes. After that show, he sent me mail asking if he'd behaved strangely because his evil twin had been in control.
I went back through my years of stored mail to see what Robert and I had talked about and found some interesting quotes. From May of 1992, when I was struggling with carpal tunnel syndrome and before he joined MacWEEK, Robert closed a message with, "Get well. PS: I'd make some crass remark about hurt wrists and late nights alone but we're not good enough friends for that sort of humor... yet. ;)." Ever brash and irreverent, Robert noted in regard to a comment I made about the pointing device used by IBM's ThinkPad notebooks that, "It always makes me feel like I'm manipulating someone's nipple." That note made it into TidBITS-261, and the conversation, which also included Peter H. Lewis of the New York Times, continued in email. Robert wrote:
"This is a creepy message. We have technogeeks from three major rags (well, my major rag and your couple of minor also-rans) in an email at once.
"I'm surprised at what our editors are letting us get away with these days. Two weeks ago the Knife had an OJ joke that kicked a little sand over the libel line, then last week he said Clinton was "abandoning the liberal tie-dye for Republican drag." I guess we're feeding our editors well these days.
"But I think a nipple line might get vetoed in print, though I'm welcome to spew elsewhere all I want."
Along with breaking into the world of Macintosh journalism, something he had wanted to do rather badly, Robert was a decent programmer. His best known utility identified users who connected to a Mac running file sharing, and was initially called Shaman. In June of 1994, ZiffNet/Mac (ZMac) licensed it and renamed it ShareDevil. Unfortunately, although the ZMac/MacUser Utility of the month is now available on the Web each month, past utilities are still only available to ZMac subscribers on CompuServe (and I presume eWorld). Perhaps ZMac could re-release ShareDevil in Robert's memory.
In October of 1995, I became a contributing editor with MacWEEK, and Robert was assigned to be my editor, a move that pleased me because I'd known him for so long. I'd like to say that our working relationship had been a barrel of laughs as well, but after commiserating with one another about having to use Microsoft Word after I handed in the first column, communications broke down. I sent in the second column but didn't hear back, because he had been on vacation and then sick for a week and the column had been lost. I resent it, and a week later heard back from Carolyn Said at MacWEEK, who said Robert was sick again and that she was helping out. That column made it in, and when he came back to work, I asked Robert when he wanted the third column. He said the Sunday before Macworld, so I sent it early since we were leaving for San Francisco that Sunday. Then, when I checked email on Monday night, there was a note from Robert:
"As you know, things change in this business. We had some advertising changes and now I can't run your column next Monday."
Things do change in this business, but I wasn't expecting Robert to be one of them. Those were the last words I received from him. On Wednesday night at the APS party, Mark Hall, MacWEEK's editor-in-chief, told me that Robert had been admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. I knew it was serious, but not until the next night at the Netter's Dinner did I realize how bad. Avi Rappoport told me that people were planning to do something for Robert the next day at the Developer Central pavilion, and that Robert wasn't doing well. Then, just before noon on Friday, Raines Cohen came by in the middle of a signing I was doing and told me that Robert had died.
Goodbye, Robert. I will miss you, MacWEEK will miss you, and the Internet will miss you.