[SIGCIS-Members] James Pelkey - in memory

Brian Berg brianberg at gmail.com
Mon May 1 11:24:11 PDT 2023

Thank you for sharing this sad news.

I am on the IEEE History Committee which manages the annual IEEE William
and Joyce Middleton Electrical Engineering History Award
<https://www.ieee.org/about/history-center/middleton-award.html>, often
called the Middleton Award.  Pelkey's *Circuits, Packets, and Protocols:
Entrepreneurs and Computer Communications, 1968-1988* book is one of this
year's nominees, and I happen to be one of the readers of this book.  As I
read the book, I keep running across the names of people I know.  The
book's scholarship is quite astounding, being based on a huge number of
Oral Histories and the like, as noted in this story about his passing.
Brian A. Berg / bberg at StanfordAlumni.org
Berg Software Design - LinkedIn Profile
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On Mon, May 1, 2023 at 10:07 AM Andrew Russell via Members <
members at lists.sigcis.org> wrote:

> Dear SIGCIS -
> I’m writing to share the sad news that James Pelkey passed away earlier
> this year.
> Some of you may know his name from the oral history collection at CHM
> <https://www.computerhistory.org/collections/catalog/102746648> that
> bears his name. These interviews are a remarkable resource, both because
> they document the perspectives of many leading Internet pioneers -
> Licklider, Cerf, Kahn, Baran, Pouzin, Metcalfe, Postel, and more - and also
> because Pelkey conducted these interviews in the late 1980s, well before
> the social and commercial significance of their work was understood.
> Jim’s website, The History of Computer Communications
> <https://historyofcomputercommunications.info/>, is likewise an
> extraordinary resource: it has links to the interview transcripts, as well
> as Jim’s own personal story and his analysis—in the shape of hundreds of
> interconnected hypertext pages—of the formative years of computer
> communications.  The site, which was completed in 2009, includes some
> valuable and underutilized primary sources, such as market research about
> the companies that made devices (modems, routers, and so on) that
> facilitated computer communication.
> Over several years I worked with Jim and our friend and co-author, Loring
> Robbins, to bring Jim’s work and insights to different audiences.  For me,
> the main outcome of this collaboration was the time I was able to spend
> with Jim and Loring, which included a couple of lovely weeks visiting Jim
> at his home in Maui, as well as countless hours on the phone and, more
> recently, zoom.  For computing historians, I’m happy that we were able to
> complete three publications together that may appeal to you, depending on
> your level of interest in the subject. It was Jim’s sincere wish that
> scholars in computing, computer history, business, and related fields would
> grapple with his work and the underlying source material, perhaps draw
> different conclusions, and use the work to inform teaching and knowledge
> about entrepreneurship, technological change, the late 20th century, and
> more.
> 1. *Circuits, Packets, and Protocols: Entrepreneurs and Computer
> Communications, 1968-1988* (ACM Press, 2022). More information here:
> https://circuitspacketsandprotocols.com/. Over 600 pages of pure joy!
> Many thanks to Tom Misa, our area editor at ACM Books, for his support in
> bringing this to fruition.
> 2. “The Business of Internetworking: Standards, Start-Ups, and Network
> Effects” *Business History Review* 96.1, Spring 2022, pp 109-144. Available
> online via Cambridge Core
> <https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/business-history-review/article/abs/business-of-internetworking-standards-startups-and-network-effects/7C91F270A57FE6DD315803D908682014>. (and
> perhaps elsewhere). Special thanks to JoAnne Yates and Craig Murphy, who
> included this article in a special issue of BHR on Standards and the Global
> Economy.
> 3. “The Do-Or-Die Moments That Determined the Fate of the Internet
> <https://spectrum.ieee.org/computer-networking>,” *IEEE Spectrum*,
> published online March 27, 2023. This one wins the title for brevity,
> compared to the book and article in BHR, and is accompanied by some nice
> photos. I believe the plan is to include this essay in the print version of
> *Spectrum* that marks the 50th anniversary of the invention of Ethernet.
> Finally, I’m pasting below an obituary that Loring Robbins wrote. It
> provides a glimpse of Jim’s enormous legacy and warm spirit.
> Best regards,
> Andy
> —————————
> James Pelkey had a big smile and an even bigger heart, and he made strong,
> lasting connections with people wherever he went. Whether paddling or
> hiking in the Adirondacks as a young boy, traveling to research emerging
> markets for new technologies, or probing the boundaries of consciousness
> through meditation, his curiosity drove him to explore the world and engage
> with it passionately. Jim was always eager to share his youthful energy and
> deep compassion with anyone in his presence. His laughter and sense of
> humor, his grounded advice, and his loud (often off-key) singing will be
> greatly missed by those he knew and loved. He died on February 16 on his
> home island of Maui, Hawaii at the age of 77.
> Born on March 12, 1946, to Lois Hoffer and Willis J. Pelkey in Saranac
> Lake, New York, Jim loved hiking, camping, and competing in basketball and
> track, holding a high school record in the high jump for many years. After
> graduating from Saranac Lake High School in 1964, he attended Rensselaer
> Polytechnic Institute, graduating with a BS in Mechanical Engineering in
> 1968. The following year he attended Harvard Business School, receiving his
> MBA in 1970.
> After moving to San Francisco, Jim worked as a financial director for
> Sunset Designs, eventually helping the company launch operations in Canada,
> England, and France. He served as president of Digital Sound and later
> Sorcim before joining Montgomery Securities in 1984 to oversee its venture
> capital operations, becoming a general partner in 1985. From 1990 to 1992
> he served as chairman of the Santa Fe Institute. He later held board
> positions with Prediction Company and Blue Sky Research.
> In 1989, Jim suffered an injury to his spine that left him paralyzed from
> the waist down. More debilitating than losing the use of his legs was the
> neuropathic pain he experienced regularly for the rest of his life. Despite
> his condition, he continued to travel, a longtime passion of his, and made
> several trips to investigate possible treatments for his pain. He was an
> early donor to the Neuroscience & Regeneration Research Center at Yale
> University and his connection with the lab helped alter the course of
> research on spinal cord injury to include the study of pain that often
> accompanies this condition.
> In 2007, he moved to Hawaii. Drawn to the upcountry region of Kula on the
> island of Maui, Jim made deep connections with many in his community,
> regularly attending gatherings of like-minded spiritual seekers and hosting
> events at his home. In his retirement, he took up painting, continued to
> follow NBA and college basketball avidly, and pursued his passion for
> history and economics.
> During his time at Montgomery Securities, Jim conducted a series of 85
> interviews of engineers, academics, government regulators, and startup
> founders in the growing fields of data communications and computer
> networking. These interviews formed the basis of a decades-long project to
> document the birth of new industries critical to the evolution of the
> internet. Initially published online in 2009, his work was published in
> print in 2022 under the title Circuits, Packets, and Protocols:
> Entrepreneurs and Computer Communications, 1968-1988.
> Jim is survived by his friend and former wife, Dorothea Smith, his brother
> Brian, his nephews, Brent and Arik, and many close friends.
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