So, Derek’s gone. I was finding it a little hard to maintain, this morning. I’d known him for a while; we weren’t close but, like a whole lot of other people around geekdom and Vancouver, I’d been drawn in tighter and tighter as he wrote his way through mortal illness, always facing forward and keeping the story flowing even when everyone knew how, and recently when, it would end.

Derek K. Miller at his own living wake

The last photo I took of Derek.

We weren’t real friends as I said, but I was a fan, clicking on all the Penmachine links in my feedreader. And just now I was touched and honored to discover that apparently he left 82 comments on this blog over the years, between late 2006 and just a few weeks ago, which I just spent an hour reading. They were about the stuff this blog is about: everything, more or less. Amusing, erudite, and unironic; it felt like a visit with Derek. Given that we were apparently reading each other assiduously and comprehensively for years, I guess we were closer than I’d realized.

The Lesson · Over the lifetime of his blog, and especially in its latter days, Derek produced a remarkable piece of work; astonishing in its clarity and intensity. Today it dawned on me what it was, actually: an extended, masterful lesson in the proper way to deal with dying.

There’s little lecturing. He wrote, simply and directly, about his life and death; the lesson was in what he did not what he said. They say you learn by doing; Derek taught that way too.

In these days of healthier lifestyles and fewer wars and stricter safety regulations, more of us than ever will find ourselves in a place, eventually, where the end of our roads is in plain sight and not too far off. Those who can say et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum need less guidance on How To Die, I suppose. But like Derek I expect exactly nothing, and I’m grateful for his gift.

Footnote: Surviving Death · Perhaps, by way of very small payback, I can toss in a bit of advice. We discussed this stuff online; I asked, in Death Online “Will your blog survive you? And who writes the last entry?” Derek chipped in there and indeed his own Last Post is a masterpiece.

Later, in More on Baking, I addressed deploying Web sites to survive traffic surges. Again, Derek offered lessons from his own experience.

On this one aspect of doing Death right, Derek turned out to be wrong; his own Last Post was so popular it brought his blog down with a soggy thud. If I believed in an afterlife I’d have no trouble imagining him lounging on a cloud, laughing at the kazillions of page views and wrinkling his face in irritation at the failing server. He and I could have had a long useful talk about tactics for getting the database out of the loop and making more and still more resources static.

The specifics of the answer depend on your software setup. But hey, take this away: If your plans for your approaching death include a closing magnum opus, well then get your caching setup right.

Goodbye and thanks.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Doug K (May 05 2011, at 09:56)

I liked Justin Erik Halldór Smith's recent post on blogging as gravestone,

"(blogging is) the activity, I am increasingly coming to think, of actively constructing my self, and this activity, when it leaves off in death, will leave an accurate and vivid trace of a life. My online activity is, as I already put it, both mask and gravestone at once."

I did not know or even read Derek until now. May his memory be eternal.


From: Jon Jennings (May 15 2011, at 10:46)

Derek actually took measures in advance to prepare the blog for a future without him and, in doing so, removed the database from the loop.

He moved it to Movable Type a year ago & one of the specific attractions for him was its generation of static HTML:


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