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A Snowy Day in Cleveland

Posted by editor on February 27, 2006 at 2:07 PM PST

It's snowing in Cleveland today. A cloudy, gray snow that hoses your visibility and slows down traffic.

I drove through this snow today, to the funeral of Elena Steinberg. Elena was the six-year-old daughter of Daniel Steinberg, our editor-in-chief and the first editor of java.net. She died suddenly last Wednesday.

I don't want to focus on their family's heartbreak. Instead, I want the java.net community to understand how much Daniel and his family mean to us.

To me, Elena was the voice in the background that would pop in when Daniel and I were voice-chatting about the site. We'd be planning, scheming, or kvetching about something, and I'd hear this "daaaaaa-dee?" in the background. On the surface, it meant that someone wanted lunch, or permission to do something... but it also meant that Daniel's family was a constant, important part of his work. If you recall the daily blogs of his tenure, you'll remember he was constantly talking about what his girls were doing, and the kinds of thoughts it brought to mind.

I wasn't going to blog about this... I'm just not sure it's appropriate... but seeing hundreds of people in the church made me appreciate how much the Steinberg family is involved with their many communities: school, church, family, and work. Author James Duncan Davidson was there. So was Apple Java engineer Scott Kovatch. And the former head of O'Reilly's Online Publishing Group, Bruce Stewart. (update: I've since learned that O'Reilly's Nancy Abila, Mike Loukides, and Sarah Kim were also in attendance, as was java.net author Jonathan Simon) And that community involvement made me think.

Daniel was one of the key movers in the launch of java.net a few years ago, and has been instrumental in making this community succeed. Maybe arguing hypotheticals is bunk, but I honestly don't believe that this site would even be here had he not been O'Reilly's top person on the project. He is a voice for not just this community, but for the idea and the ideals of an open-source community: what it can do, what it should do. Think it's easy? Look at all the failed "build it and they will come" community sites that were launched over the last few years. There's more to it than throwing up a source-control server and a web page.

It is to Sun's credit that they will bring on as partners people who say things that Sun doesn't want to hear, but needs to hear. Daniel has had to say a lot of those things. It's not easy. You get insulted, you get attacked, and when you don't win, you get blamed by people who you probably agree with. Personally, I haven't been fighting nearly enough of these battles to support him. He's had to take a lot of the heat himself, and I feel terrible about that. Everyone at Sun and Collab, you're now on notice: I am the new "bad cop". Daniel can retire.

While continuing as our editor-in-chief, Daniel has been working on some new projects. If you're a podcast listener, you know him as the producer, writer, and voice of O'Reilly Network's Distributing the Future podcast. You probably didn't, however, know that he used to be a radio DJ. Listen to the voice and you can hear it. He's also writing one of the few books the world really needs, Head First Calculus. Learning Calculus is one of the two things I've insisted that my children will have to do when they're teenagers (the other is learning to drive stick-shift). When work resumes on that, you can follow the progress on his Extreme Teaching blog.

Daniel has done so much for our java.net community, and for me personally. He helped cover my work on the sites when we were in the hospital for three weeks with my son's third heart surgery. I'm taking some of his work until he can return, and I don't care how long it takes. Stuff will get done.

It's still snowing in Cleveland. In California, millions of bits are passing through the java.net servers. It's supposed to snow again tomorrow, and the site will continue on too. Projects will get started, code will be checked in and out, and I'll pull together a new front page. Most of this will go on as it always has.

But some things can never be the same again.