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Eulogy for Joseph
As we watched Joseph's friends pour into town, I was
struck by how many distinct sets of friends he had. There
were family, skaters, punks, his urban posse, his boys and his
girls, professors, colleagues, New York friends, California
friends, cyberspace friends who'd never met him "in the
flesh". Trying to walk down the street with him was an
exercise in frustration, as Joseph's fans flocked to him.
He was so much to so many. One of his greatest gifts to us is
I remember the first time I saw Joseph. This was about nine
years ago. You couldn't miss him. It was in college at a
computer science lecture with hundreds of students. He would
skate into class 20 minutes late, flip his skateboard up onto
his desk, crack open a chocolate milk and begin to drink, all
eyes on him. He would turn around and give us a little wave.
The thing was -- and it clearly pissed off the professors --
he routinely scored the highest marks in the class on every
assignment. Immediately I said to myself, "I need to know this
guy." So I cornered him and said to him directly, "You and I
are going to be friends." Well, Joseph looked me up and down
and said, "Uh....No thanks..."
You have to understand . . . Joseph, in those days especially,
had an approach to people that was at best "challenging" and
at worst confrontational. Those who didn't "get" Joseph
brushed him off as a clown, but to those who watched and
listened, it was clear there was something extremely profound
going on. Joseph had an uncanny ability to see into people, to
look through you, to reflect your own insecurities and hangups
back at you, until you had no choice left but to drop them...
and dance with him. Joseph called your bluff every time.
Despite his best efforts to the contrary, eventually we did
become friends. I simply refused to let him go, or to let him
push me away. I knew in my core that if being Joseph's
friend required change, well then I'd change. He was
Joseph was a computer hacker in the true MIT tradition. As a
teenager -- and he didn't often brag about this -- he
re-engineered some communication software into what became the
de facto standard for software pirates around the world. In
those days he was known by his handle, the "Code-God". Luckily
(for him and for us), he later turned his attention to more
"legitimate" endeavors. Joseph was an utterly brilliant
software engineer. For our senior term project the class was
broken into groups of four. Under Joseph's lead we
settled into an efficient working mode. One of us would get
Joseph's food, one of us would get his music, and the
third guy, well Joseph just told him to stay out of the way.
Joseph programmed, and, needless to say, we all took home
"A+s". Around Joseph, it seemed there were three ways to solve
any problem. The right way, the wrong way, and Joseph's
way, which made the "right" way look foolish by comparison.
Joseph found a home he loved here at MIT, where he found at
least a few people that could almost keep up with him.
Being around Joseph was a feast for both the senses and the
There are the delicious images, we all have archived in our
minds. Joseph was so beautiful to look at, so exquisite. His
hair, his skin, his eyes. To watch him skate - a blur of red -
the incarnation of intensity. To watch him sleep (and Joseph
could sleep anywhere - anytime) mouth open, looking just like
a baby... To watch him thinking, eyes lost in space, tuning
everything out while his mind unraveled the complexities of
some algorithm or machine...
And then there were the sounds. The tick-tick-tick of the
skateboard on the sidewalk that announced his impending
arrival. And wherever Joseph was, music was not far behind.
Reggae, blues, rap, rock. Despite appearances and his pale
face, Joseph was no "white boy." Watching him dance was a
lesson in freedom, an unadulterated joy. His Mojo was always
And then there were the smells. I won't get into these,
those who knew Joseph primarily in Cyberspace were denied this
unique aspect of life with him.
With Joseph, what you saw was what you got. He lived without
pretense and gave of his pure heart completely. He had more
"best friends" than I can count, because he made each one of
us feel like his best friend. As far as I could tell, he never
really treated anyone differently from anyone else. He ignored
both celebrity and authority. When Bill Gates passed through
the Lab on his way to give a lecture, Joseph pulled him aside
and told him to "kick some ass."
Joseph was utterly unique. A genius. Compassionate. Generous.
Kind. He was not stingy with his love. He told us, and he
showed us. He gave and gave and gave. Each of us knows how
blessed we were to share a few moments on this earth with
Although what we've lost is tremendous, what he gave us
To those who knew him, no explanation is necessary... To those
who didn't, no explanation is possible...
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