Martin Sikes (1968-2007)

I didn’t know Martin Sikes past 1985 when I dropped out of the BBS scene in Vancouver and thus missed the entire Excursionists era proper except for a few late-night proto-adventures before that group was formalized. For over twenty years (until I fell victim to cloning) the PIN for my bank card was the last four digits of the telephone number for Blue Hell (8192) so it was natural for me to think about Beelzebub and hum the Commodore 64 jingle for a moment every time I conducted an automated bank transaction. I was never adept enough to achieve something as simple as connecting the lower case add-on to my used Apple ][+ (let alone carry out a bit o’phreaking). So, for me, the scene was never primarily about technical aspects of computing but, rather, about itself: a decentralized utopian social network (of teenagers) that one participated in via pseudonyms (I was The Fandango) and at a distance. These monikers allowed for a wide range of encounters where one’s identity was more malleable than the limited version one might have been stuck with in the codified day-to-day slog of the first couple years of public high school. Martin’s contributions to that network were central. He established both a tone and structure of hospitality through the functions he built into his software (the Blue Board which was put into use far beyond the local milieu) and as a sysop then as a convener of events. There isn’t much written about this as far I know (see “Geek Communities Then and Now” by Derek K. Miller for a sketch) but I was pleased and amazed by Johan Thornton who presented this provocative “M” diagram at the recent celebration and explained as follows (I apologize in advance for my errors in transcription).

“This is a typical Martin friend network. So the ‘M’ in the middle is Martin and the orange lines are Martin’s immediate friends and they all have in common that they like someone like Martin. But then you can see that they make friends (which is the green) and they keep their people that Martin never met but they’re friends with the people that like Martin and they inevitably also like someone like Martin. And then there’s some blue lines that show where they all meet because of Martin. And then the red lines show how those people also who have friends who get together because of Martin and also meet and they meet all the other ones and because of who Martin is they’re really strong friendships. So the purpose of this diagram is to show how much cross-bracing there is in this friend network so that if you unfortunately take away the ‘M’ this network is still strong. It is made out of people who like someone like Martin. People who were attracted to someone like martin. All those people haven’t changed. This network is just as strong.”

I’ve posted my raw audio recording of the memorial (temperamental server warning) but Johan is preparing a DVD that will no doubt have much better sound quality. Anyone who hasn’t read the posts on Martin’s Facebook page should check them out (you may need to join the Vancouver network first) and since obituaries published in Canwest papers are taken offline after thirty days I’m reproducing a copy of the one that appeared The Vancouver Sun (08/01/02): D6.

“SIKES, Martin. Martin is finally resting having passed away unexpectedly on Christmas Eve at age thirty-nine. He is survived by his daughter Brooklyn, parents Rita and John, sister Belinda (Calvin) and nephews Oliver and Toby, as well as his Aunt Jane (Peter) in England and many more relatives there. He was much loved and will be greatly missed. Martin attended West Van Secondary, then UBC where he became president of the Electrical Engineering student club. He went on to a successful and prosperous career in the video game industry beginning with being a founder of the highly regarded development studio, Black Box Games. He had a particular talent for building communities. This first became clear in the computer modeming scene of the early eighties, then at UBC, later in the video game industry, and perhaps most vividly when he became a prominent disc jockey and the prime mover of the Soundproof music collective. In each case, Martin’s enthusiasm and drive would draw people in and get them involved. The enduring connections that were formed in these communities are a significant legacy. To say that he lived life to its fullest would be an understatement. His many friends were very important to him and he was loyal and generous in return. Martin had a passion for trains, from his childhood to his tragically premature death. He travelled extensively to exotic places like Easter Island and the Antarctic, as well as to visit friends in Australia, Africa and South America. No funeral service is planned, as Martin would not have wanted anything sombre. Instead a celebration of his vibrant life will be held at 4pm, Sunday, January 6th at the Kay Meek Centre, 1700 Mathers Avenue, West Vancouver. No flowers please, but donations to Engineers Without Borders will be gratefully received.”