SGML: Memory of Yuri Rubinsky (1952-1996)
[Via CTS Digest, (c) Erik Naggum]
Article: 12419 of comp.text.sgml
From: Erik Naggum <email@example.com>
Subject: Yuri, why did you leave so soon?
Date: 01 Feb 1996 12:56:26 +0000
Organization: Naggum Software; +47 2295 0313
Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished:
If you're alive, it isn't.
-- Richard Bach: _Illusions_ (1972)
Unfortunately, just because you die doesn't mean your mission on earth was
finished, and nobody is a better example of that than Yuri.
As I have read the many moving eulogies to and memories of Yuri, I have
come to the sad conclusion that Yuri was a man I did not know, but should
have. I simply did not know that Yuri was the kind of businessman that I
have wanted to see, one whose profit motive and self-interest was inclusive
of other people to the point that neither of those terms apply, one whose
range of thinking was decades and beyond, one who moved to improve the
world, one who sought to do what he believed in, and only then hoped to
make good, honest money on it. Yuri was obviously the businessman who
didn't just want to sell you something he had made, he was the man who
wanted to exchange gifts of great value. Yuri was pure, that much I can
say without having known him well.
Yuri was a source of light and energy for me, as well. I'm amazed by the
fact that through our very brief meetings at conferences he still managed
to leave something of great value with me -- I'm not a "people person", so
there aren't many people I truly remember. Let me relate a story that gave
me great joy: When I was a little kid, my city's public library was my
favorite place; I went there to borrow books on mathematics, and by a
coincidence called Dewey Decimal Classification, I found books on
computers. Then I got interested in DDC itself, and libraries have been
dear to me ever since, as temples to order and information and wisdom.
Curious it was, then, that Yuri at SGML Europe '93 should use a library as
the centerpiece of his talk -- he had walked into a library one day and
found a computer terminal that could do catalog searches. There were no
signs, no exciting news, nothing of the fireworks you find at Disneyworld
whenever they get a new plaything. This was a revolution that passed
unnoticed, except by Yuri. Yuri was the kind of man who made his own
fireworks. His talk went straight home with me -- I know libraries: staid,
quiet places, where any excitement is in private -- but Yuri ignored all
that, and I made a mental image of Yuri in that library that day that I
will cherish forever, true or not.
>From what little I knew of Yuri, and what you all have said, I'd like to
think of him as a man who retained the excitement of a young animal at play
with ever new things, only with the intelligence to spot novelty and thus
excitement in the unlikeliest little places.
The many tributes to Yuri remind of John G. Saxe's poem "The Blind Men and
the Elephant", as quoted in The SGML Handbook:
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined
Who went to see the elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
It's about Yuri the elephant and all of us. We each hold on to a little
piece of Yuri, how he affected us personally, how he shared his excitement
and his energy, but will we ever get the whole picture? Will we grok and
cherish Yuri? Can we draw any lessons from his exuberance, his immensely
energetic personality and his contributions to our lives? I hope we can,
because Yuri's mission was not finished. Yuri's mission was to let us see
how we could each improve our condition and the world -- and he invited us
to see, he didn't show us. Yuri's mission was to let us realize that the
Information that keeps us moving forward can only be kept alive by the
diligent effort of his like to let everybody get access to it, so as not to
waste time reinventing wheels, so as not to ponder solved problems, so as
not to retrace dead ends. Through access to Information, we can all learn
from the experience of people we will never know. Yuri was the man who
made his mission into practical values. Now it is for us to learn from the
experience of a man some of us knew well, but all too few knew as well as
they should have.
Yuri's excitement in the library over the computer terminal can also serve
as an image of him, in the role of the terminal. Yuri was himself the
quiet revolution that had no flashing neon signs to announce it and who
made no effort to announce it, either: people just had to come to realize
what valuable gifts he offered them, all by themselves. Thanks to all of
you who came back from seeing him and let me see the revolution whose
importance I had missed. But Yuri, why did you leave so soon?