JIM Ayson, an Internet pioneer and friend, died of a heart attack last week. He was 53.
I had known Jim from the early days, when personal computers were still new and exciting—and when hard disks went all the way up to 10 megabytes and when modem speeds maxed out at 56 kbps.
At the time, Jim wrote a column called “The Ayson Chronicles” for PC Digest, a monthly computer magazine I edited with my brother Po. I remember I looked forward to editing Jim’s columns because they were so well written that I hardly needed to touch them.
Jim was a wonk and a geek before it was fashionable to be either, and he dove deep into technology topics in his columns. The photo we ran with his column had Jim in a shirt and tie with his arms crossed, much like the American programmer and author Peter Norton did in his photo for PC Magazine, where he wrote a column called “The Norton Chronicles.” We all assumed this was a tongue-in-cheek tip of the hat to Norton, but years later, Jim said on his Google+ account that his column was actually named after Ray Bradbury’s classic collection of science fiction short stories, “The Martian Chronicles.”
Jim Ayson (left) and Mon Isberto of Smart Communications during the 20th anniversary of the Internet in the Philippines.
Many years later, he also named his blog “The Ayson Chronicles.”
“Calling this blog The Ayson Chronicles brings me back to those thrilling days of yesteryear,” he wrote in 2008. “More precisely, the timeline covering the years 1989 to 1991, when I wrote a monthly column for a fledgling computer magazine called PC Digest.
“On a whim, I christened the column The Ayson Chronicles, named obviously after the Ray Bradbury book, “The Martian Chronicles.” The magazine editors Po Wong and Chin Wong gave me a free hand, and I wrote about the PC technology of the day in a casual conversational style…
“My writing idols [who I tried to emulate] were… irreverent, always interesting, and always kept up with what was new. There was Jerry Pournelle, who wrote the ‘Chaos Manor’ columns in Byte Magazine. And the still nasty John C. Dvorak of PC Magazine.
“The ‘tech’ in my columns wasn’t really much by today’s standards. A typical sampler of topics of the day would include pieces on dot matrix printers, 9600 baud modems, and 386 processors.”
Jim went on to write for a variety of publications, including mainstream media, but something about his early column stuck.
“Of all the columns I’ve ever written, oddly enough, the one that people still remember is ‘The Ayson Chronicles.’ Over 15 years after the fact, I still bump into people who remember that strange little column,” he wrote.
It was also during the PC Digest days that I learned about another side of Jim—his love for music (he played in the Mexicali Blues Band) and his quest to document the local music scene. From this interest sprang Philmusic.com, a pioneering website that chronicled the local music scene. The site, which he started in 1997, enabled Jim to expand his writing beyond technology and pursue his interest in digital photography—shooting live acts for the website with one of the early digital cameras, an Agfa e1280.
But all throughout his career, Jim was fascinated by the online world—starting from the early bulletin board services and his popular PH-Cyberview mailing list, to the Internet and social media. In the early part of the millennium, Jim and his long-time companion Chette became part of a campaign to push for reforms in the way the Philippine Internet domain was managed, a cause I supported. At about the same time, he also wrote one of the most detailed and entertaining accounts of the birth of the Internet in the Philippines, and last year, he helped organize a reunion of the key players to mark its 20th year.
“I’m interested in the way that people behave in online networks, what makes them tick, and what are the trends swirling about in this user-generated…brave new world of ours,” he wrote.
A mutual friend, former photographer and bar owner Ben Razon, e-mailed me upon learning of Jim’s death and summed up perfectly what I will miss about Jim.
“The thing I liked about him was that he was eternally inquisitive and expressive. Not everybody in the tech circles was like that, and he was curious about developments in music, photography and the culture of the present,” Ben wrote. “I tell ya, he left too soon.” Chin Wong
Column archives and blog at: www.chinwong.com
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