I was quite astonished to learn that Jan was 84 years old
when he died. To all of us in the LSGA he seemed to be about our age,
although he possessed a certain extra wisdom that should have alerted us.
I first came across Jan when we were restoring surplus computers
at IT-Share. Jan and I would eagerly install and test Ubuntu 5.04
(remember that?!) before those refurbished towers went off to deserving locals.
It wasn't our fault that many of them were returned after weeks of
unequal struggle, with a plaintive request to have XP re-activated ...
Jan would arrive at our monthly LSGA meetings and our weekly
Friday 'help' sessions bearing one or two magazines devoted to the
exploration of modern physics, electronics, biology and astronomy,
plus a couple of express delivery Linux magazines.
Having devoured them, he would hand them to us, urging us to
'take, keep and learn from them'.
He gave a talk at one of our meetings which covered advances in
computing power and reviewed the hopes motivating the latest research into
The old but decent HP laptop he inherited from IT-Share
soon had his preferred SUSE Linux distro installed on it.
This laptop sported a keyboard covered with an absolute riot of Cyrillic
characters, all carefully etched onto the keys with liquid paper.
All Linux computers need a network name, and this one was no exception.
What was exceptional was the name Jan had chosen
... wait for it ... "Donkey" (sic!).
He even maintained (as only Jan could do) under a barrage of incredulous
that the name had a compelling logic to it, and was, if you just took a
few minutes to think about it, even an obvious choice ...
And the laptop cover was appropriately decorated in Jan's signature fashion.
I was fortunate enough to visit him at home about two months before his death,
to have a look at the ultralight he used to fly.
The walls of his shed were covered with his artworks, carefully positioned
between his snow skis, canoe and sailing skiff.
Sometimes you had to dig into Jan to extract stuff, but as we stood and
gazed at these paintings, he volunteered the
titles he had bestowed on each one; titles that were at once both
enigmatic and revealing of the unique way Jan saw the world.
One really stuck in my mind, called "The Path is Long; The Way Uncertain".
Luckily, he allowed me to photograph my favourite, which is the painting we
It was on that afternoon that Jan talked about the books and music
that reached a high tide in almost every room of his house.
He reminisced about his time in the army in Berlin after the
Great Patriotic War (1941-45 from the Russian point of view).
Born in 1928, he must have been in his very early twenties by then.
I know nothing about his arrival here, but that he worked as
a machinist and draftsman for one of the big carmakers. In fact,
he still had one of those large drafting boards with moveable rulers
in one of his studies. But let's admit: almost every room of his house doubled
as a 'study'!
Jan was only with the LSGA for a few years, but we got to know enough
about him to love him for ever.
How I Remember Jan, by Barry.
I first met Jan at Hamilton College.
Owen and I had just started the LSGA.
The three of us were all studying in a Computer Course, and for some reason
Jan was very interested in using Linux.
At the time, Owen and I were helping out at IT-Share up at Bridgewater,
so we invited Jan to come up there with us. It wasn't long afterwards that
he became a member of the LSGA.
Jan contributed very well to our group. We found him to be a
very genuine person, always willing to help others with advice about life and Linux.
Jan was a generous person. His generosity extended to donations of magazines
to the LSGA, and donations of wine for our social evenings,
confirming that he was a keen and dedicated committee member!
Outside of computers, his interests included art, drawing, painting,
photography and fine food. He once confided to me that he enjoyed
nothing so much as a nice block of cheese from the Central Market.
We'll all miss him.