The Jefnet

I learned of Jef Poskanzer when I became immersed in the then-small worlds of Usenet and free software in the late 1980’s. He was a Usenet celebrity and the author of the ubiquitous PBMPLUS package, among other things. PBMPLUS, and its successor NETPBM, were the standard for batch-mode image processing tools in the stone-knives-and-bearskins days of computer graphics.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I moved from Pittsburgh to California in 1992 that one of my new coworkers in the tiny e-mail startup I was joining would be none other than Jef Poskanzer! As it turned out, we overlapped at Z-Code only for a short time, but we kept in loose contact for a long time thereafter.

Fast forward to several months ago. One Sunday morning my wife woke up wanting to take the kids to see the sea life in tide pools at a local beach. She asked me to determine when low tide would be that day. I googled “bay area” and “tides” — and damn me if a site run by Jef didn’t appear at the top of the search results!

Now fast forward to yesterday. I followed a link from a recent blog post by SF Chronicle sex writer Violet Blue to a silly picture of herself on Flickr. And who should have added a Flickr “note” to the image but Jef Poskanzer!

In the 80’s, it took only a modest amount of such sprinkling of one’s name around the Internet to become well-known. Now it’s much less easy. In a twist on Norma Desmond, if you tell Jef, “You used to be big,” he might say, “I am big. It’s the Internet that got much, much, much bigger.”

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