Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Ballad of Yellowbeard

MikeA good friend of mine, Mike Clements, died suddenly last Wednesday. I was granted the privilege of saying some words in his honor at his memorial service on Sunday. As many of Mike’s friends did not know much about his Yellowbeard alter-ego, I thought I would publish my tribute here.

It’s tough to know where to start when talking about Mike, so I might as well start at the beginning. About nine years ago or so, my company, Corsair, had a problem on our hands. Lots of our customers spent a lot of time online talking about our products and our company, and it was clear that many of them needed help. And, occasionally, discussions would erupt into flame wars, where everything would get completely crazy and out of control.

I talked with my tech support manager about this, and asked him if he knew of anyone on the forums who might be able to help us. He gave me a few names, but told me that his recommendation would be one of our frequent forum visitors, some ex-cop from Georgia known as “specmike”.

At first, I’ll have to say that I was skeptical. But, I spent some time on our forum, checking this guy out to see what kind of stuff he was posting. And, I was really encouraged by what I saw. Really intelligent, informed responses, with a very calm communication style. I decided it was worth giving the guy a call and interviewing him.

Now, I don’t know if all y’all southerners know this, but us Yankees have some pretty well established stereotypes of southern law enforcement personnel. So, when I placed my call to specmike, I was fully expecting to hear Buford T Justice himself on the other end of the line. Instead, what I heard was this incredibly soft-spoken, ultra-polite, gentle-sounding character. I tried to picture him making an arrest, and all I could hear was, “Hey, y’all wouldn’t mind putting those hands up in the air, would y’all?”

Anyhow, the call went really well, and we both decided it was a match. He told me his “real” name was Mike Clements, and I told him he was hired. Back in those pre-facebook days, no one used their real name online, so I suggested to Mike that he pick his favorite pirate to use as a handle. Mike picked Yellowbeard, a Monty Python creation. And I think this perhaps gave me my first inkling about what sort of character we were bringing on board.

Yellowbeard had two jobs to do. The first was pretty simple – hang out on the forums, look for people who need help, and assist them. The second was to look for any discussions about Corsair that were turning into conflicts, and defuse the situation. My guess is, no one in this room would be surprised to hear that Mike was a natural in this new job. I think for him it was basically like police work for geeks. Mike clearly loved it, was a complete pro at it, and over time Yellowbeard became legendary. People would ask for him by name, and would beg him to get involved in any touchy issue.

I know you guys probably would take my word for this, but I want you to hear from just a small sample of some of the people Mike helped over the years, who are mourning his loss on the forums and on Facebook. So here we go…

“Corsair Mike has been a fixture in several places for a long time , one of the most helpful guys I’ve ever dealt with , the pc world will be a lesser place without him.
“Count me as another who has been personally helped by Mike. He is a big part of why I go to corsair for my memory.
“Mike was everywhere. He was at most of the computer shows, was at many gaming lan parties, on many forums. Not many people like him. He was one in a million.
“The community, the industry and technology-friend is missing someone that moved mountains and achieved more than most will ever be able to do.”
    and finally…
“Very sad to hear this news…Mikey… hope you’re going off HUGE dirt kickers in BMX heaven brother. One of the nicest, coolest guys I’ve EVER met period.”

Dozens and dozens of tributes like this have come in, not only from America but from all five continents.

Mike joined Corsair following a very difficult and lengthy recovery from a neck injury that he incurred in his police work. It was a time of great uncertainty for him, and several times he told me very frankly and directly how grateful he was to Corsair for the element of stability and security that the company provided. I was always very moved by his honesty and humility, and even more moved by how he translated this sentiment into actions. There was no problem that I could throw his way that he wouldn’t beat his head against until everything was under control. And everyone at Corsair knew Mike as someone who would go the extra mile to help out in almost every situation. This, combined with his demeanor, his sense of humor, his expertise, and yes, his general goofiness, made him a very popular guy at Corsair. I know that all of us here would agree that Mike was a true character, a real one-of-a-kind guy. And, to Californians who don’t get much exposure to his brand of Georgia craziness, he was truly larger than life.

I worked directly with Mike for over eight years. During that time we spoke several times per week, and during this or that crisis it was many times per day. We didn’t just talk about work, as you might imagine. Very quickly, it became work, cars, bikes and biking, music, politics, insomnia, fatherhood, working out, or his latest insane injury. I felt a strong bond with Mike, and I am afraid that his loss leaves a wound that will take a long time to heal.

Like most of us, Mike grew up from childhood to become a responsible adult. But unlike most of us, Mike seems not to have grown out of his childhood. He never lost that joy and enthusiasm that you have when you are a kid. I mean, what sane 46-year-old adult rides a BMX bike? Especially mere weeks after blowing up his knee on that same BMX bike? Or puts on a wig and face paint to go to a party? Or finds himself a job that requires him to be an expert on computer games? Mike, that’s who. And we were all infused by this spirit of his, and are much the better for it.

Mike was a good teammate, a good friend, and a good man. It is really, really difficult for my brain to process the fact that he is gone. It just doesn’t seem possible. I loved Mike, and am proud that he was my friend. I know that his memory will always be with me, and I am looking forward to the day when the smiles that his memory invariably brings to my face will displace the ache in my heart that his loss has caused.

Mike leaves a strong legacy of the hundreds of others he helped both as a police officer and as Yellowbeard, as well as of the smiles he brought to the faces of the many people who loved him.

A Moveable Feast

I think that Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. This holiday combines two things I treasure the most – family, and lots of good food – so, what’s not to like? Some people are way into Christmas, but I will take Thanksgiving any day, thankyouverymuch…

The most important thing about Thanksgiving is not where you are, but who you are with. The saddest Thanksgiving I spent recently was a few years ago in Nashville, where we were in the midst of a college-visit trip. Nashville is a cool place, but it just wasn’t Thanksgiving to me, sitting in a restaurant with Karen and Brian, trying to enjoy a hip bistro’s poor excuse of a nouveau-turkey dinner. We won’t be doing THAT again any time soon!

We are empty-nesters now, and both our boys are in school back on the East Coast, one in North Carolina and one in Connecticut. So, to make things easier for everyone, we decided to find some geographically suitable place to host Thanksgiving. After a little research and lots of time browsing, we settled on a lovely house named “Weaverton” in the countryside outside of Staunton, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley.

We must have been on to something, because lots of people decided to join us! Karen’s mom flew out with us from California, and Karen’s sister decided to drive up from Asheville, North Carolina. My own sister came down from Baltimore with her husband. And, of course, Tyler drove up from Winston-Salem, Brian journeyed down from New Haven, and his girlfriend Kelsey came down from Washington DC. A total of nine of us at the Thanksgiving table; not bad for an impromptu gathering in the wilds of Virginia!

Karen, Judy, and I flew from San Francisco to Dulles on Monday, and picked up Brian and Kelsey from the Metro late Tuesday morning after a short visit to Manassas battlefield. The day started out cloudy, but became progressively clearer as we approached Staunton. By the time we reached the house, we had a gorgeous day on our hands.

Both Tyler and Stacy had planned to drive up from North Carolina on Wednesday, but changed their plans due to the reports of a storm moving in. So by Tuesday night, there were seven of us huddled around the fire, listening to the rain beginning to fall. I woke up a few times in the night to the sound of the house being absolutely pelted by rain, but by the time I woke up in the morning, it was silent, and Weaverton had undergone a marvelous transformation!

Watching the snow come down from the safety of the porch

Watching the snow come down from the safety of the porch

Wednesday morning, with five inches of new snow

Wednesday morning, with five inches of new snow

I will have to say, there are few things cooler than being snowed in, with plenty of supplies, and with a huge fireplace with a roaring fire. Nothing much to do, except play epic games of Uno and Jenga, tromp around in the snow, watch the occasional basketball game, and start preparing for the next day’s feast.

Thanksgiving had it’s challenges. Everyone had a dish to prepare, and all in one oven. I did the turkey and stuffing, Karen did cranberry sauce, Brian and Kelsey did mashed potatoes and pecan pie, Stacy cooked sweet potatoes, Tyler prepared a green bean casserole, Lisa and Tim (who arrived Thursday morning), brought pumpkin and apple pies, and corn risotto. Judy’s job was to set and decorate the table. A few “firsts” were experienced, like opening a can of tomatoes with tin snips, and carving a sixteen pound turkey with a paring knife and a kitchen fork. In spite of the unlimited food and limited kitchen, however, everything came out perfectly, and on time. Chef Ramsey would have been proud!

Enjoying the feast. We have a lot to be thankful for!

Enjoying the feast. We have a lot to be thankful for!

The rest of the weekend was filled with various adventures and misadventures, wine tasting, exploring, and of course plenty of football! All in all, a memorable Thanksgiving, and a beautiful place. I suspect we will be back!