08 August 2023

Sales Whore University

Man, even though there have been some wins, my 2023 thus far has been a year of Ls.

We lost the Super Bowl.

I wasted my last collegiate hackathon.

I squandered a really nice (on paper) grad school opportunity.

We lost Interstate 95.

But worst of all, we lost this guy:

[19:43:32] <vishwin> you still have that dough boy shirt?
[19:44:23] <jedijf> i do not...just my dough boy clock in the office and dough boy tie on Yoda

His irl name was Jim Fisher. His internet name was jedijf, and his amateur radio call sign was AJ3DI (originally KC3BRA). A bunch of us were chatting away on IRC that morning. Two mornings later we all received the bad news. I still have no words to describe the pain that not only myself, but everyone else he worked or played with, all felt.

Most will remember him as every ham's favourite ham and all the support he provided to the various technical open source communities in the Philadelphia area and beyond.

Yes, communities as plural.

Yes, technical open source communities.

You can read all about it via everyone else's tributes and such on the obituary and various public mailing list threads. Others have more coherent words on the subject than I probably ever will.

But was tech his career?


He sold bread!

Best secret weapon ever.

For those of us who are relatively not social technically-minded people, we easily get caught up in prerequisite this, given that thinking. Someone else who comes along, who does not necessarily have a tech background, but eager to play, break, learn as much as possible, together, and have a knack of selling unadulterated joy of the process easily becomes a best friend.

Selling bread, selling playing with fire (technology).

Those in the bread business with him can elaborate more on how he revolutionised service to customers and whatnot. That's only part of the story. I cannot drive home enough just how good at sales he was, encouraging people to play, getting people out of their comfort zones.

Every interaction with him, especially lately, and even more so in a group setting, was a class session of Sales Whore University.

Whenever I am to give someone unfamiliar with Jim what his essence was in a concise manner, I always use the advert he recorded by messing around at a community broadcast radio station. Just brilliant.

This clip predated my ham radio journey but not my Philly open source community journey. At that time, I was an arrogant impatient prick, more than I am now, just getting my feet wet with the irl half of the open source community. Jim always emphasised how the virtual/online only constituted half the experience.

During my prime collegiate hackathon days, I started dabbling with wireless communication as part of my hardware hacks. Once I finally decided to bite my tongue and cram for my initial ham licence, I signed up on Jim's club exam session. Lowkey I was hoping he wouldn't notice, but it didn't take long to get an IRC message from him. Even though he wasn't at that exam session, he would get me soon enough by ganging a bunch of the open source community folks up to attend a ham club meeting, making me a member of said club on the spot and giving me some equipment he wasn't using just to get me started. He didn't have to do any of that shit.

What I slowly learnt from that act and many more over the years, with so many other people, constituted the finest acts of salesmanship and service. Acts of a true sales whore.

He made sure to use whoever he interacted with's intrinsic motivation to not only reinforce why they showed up, but to try new things, get people out of their comfort zones a little. He called it "PLAY BREAK LEARN"; for those who have ever wasted a perfectly good hour listening to Car Talk, this was his phrasing of "unencumbered by the thought process". Attraction over promotion.

Sometimes it would take a bit, perhaps years, for stuff to have the desired effect on people to take action. This was perfectly okay with him, unlike my impatient arse. Good lasting sales are always a long game.

Growing up, I was never a fan of doing "community service". Many such activities seemed dry like improperly cooked chicken breast, especially when not amongst friends. I confided to him and others that they always felt like more of an obligation than anything fun, rewarding and lasting, particularly amongst the biologically younger crowd who were exposed to such activities in this manner. The Multiple Sclerosis Society's City-to-Shore ride was coming up, and the ham team needed more bodies. In another act of attraction over promotion (and wrangling and begging), Jim flipped the notions of community and service on their heads: we will play radio, hang out and convoy together as a community, most importantly amongst friends who actually want to be there, and oh we just so happen to support a cause in the process. I'm about to do my fourth MS 150 this year, but through his framing, branched out to other ham radio service events that other friends do like the Boston Marathon.

There are so many more examples of Jim's salesmanship, like the time he got an indoor(!) vendor table at the Kimberton Hamfest, ostensibly to have MS 150 paper sign up sheets and info to those interested, but ended up as a hang-out table. I believe this was the other Charlie's (K3NOP) first hamfest, where he bought an HF rig and some coax cable, eager to do some testing, so Jim had him wire just the coax up tuned to KYW Newsradio to check proper receiver function. At some point, maybe before, Jim got asked what he was selling at the vendor table. "Nothing! The hobby!"

Ultimately, the only thing that mattered to him was whether you played, broke and learnt. He was not one for compliments or anything resembling a personality cult; principles over personalities all day every day.

I'm probably rambling to the point of needing to pass out. Even when having fun and reminiscing and whatnot, big dogs gotta sleep. I'm sure besides any actual cause of death, Jim needed to pass out after a long day of working and playing, to get ready for another early morning of breading. I do hope that when he wakes up (somewhere else), he sees all the text messages, phone calls, screenshots, etc of all the joy he spread, all the people helped, all the confidence and inspiration, all the careers launched, all the communities and initiatives formed and strengthened and continued, and most importantly, the family raised. Probably a smoky smell in there too, like damn dude.

left to right: me, Adam K3JCP, Jim NS3K and the Jedi himself at Philly Maker Faire 2019
courtesy Mark WA3QVU