Brad Knetl: Ghost in the Machine

James' computer on April 2, 2002

I visited Brad's parents last Thursday. We ate lunch (a mild and thick goulash) and looked through the box of photos, cards, and random stuff that Brad had saved over the years. I could put names and stories to some photos that they had been wondering about, and they put names and stories to stuff that I had no clue about. It was really hard, but good.

Among the mess there was a black and white photo of his father's computer room at the house on Little Falls Road, a black and white photo of Brad's computer (and TV) on Little Falls, and then the photo above, of a luminous a monitor—so overexposed that it grew astigmatic and comatic angelwings—throwing light onto a domestic scene of the computer age.

I knew the photo. It was not Brad's computer, as they had thought. It was my computer. My computer as it was almost every night from 1995 to 2006 or 2007. Glass of iced Dr. Pepper on the left. Scanner cloaked in darkness behind it (if it was post-1999, that is). Printer cloaked in darkness to the right. CRT running at 1024x768. Windows XP, probably. Maybe ME.

When I say I know that photo, I mean it. I took it. I have a print of it tacked up on my bookcase. I've had a print on my bookcase since I took it. It's the only photo I shot on film that I actually liked. It's a perfect window into a long and dark stretch of my life. I took it with a Pentax K1000 and an Ozunon 28mm f2.8. I still have both. I had borrowed them from Brad, and then he decided he didn't want to deal with them again and made them an unconditional gift. I still use them sometimes—the Pentax for pinholes and the Ozunon reversed on some extension tubes as an extreme macro. But that's a digression for another day.

In high school, I would come home around 4:30 or 5:00 and head straight to bed. I'd get up around midnight, go for a long walk, maybe get a 7-11 hot dog and soda for my breakfast, come home, pour myself another Dr. Pepper, sit down in front of the computer and write. I'd write thousands of words before dawn came and I had to go out into the "real world" again. The routine changed slightly when I left high school, but sleeping during the day, getting up at night, walking miles and miles, and writing reams and reams was always a constant.

I wondered aloud what I had been writing that night. Then they showed me this picture:

James' computer on April 2, 2002

Bit of a digression, now, sorry:

I don't do email on my phone.

That picture is why.

It shows Pegasus Mail, the desktop mail client I've used since June 10, 1998. I can actually be even more precise about the date than that: I've used it since about 17:00 that evening. How do I know that? One of the first things I did was send Brad an inconsequential email at 17:13:52, and I still have a copy of it.

Pegasus Mail has been updated over the years, but it's a niche product and has not made the jump to the app-ified smartphone/tablet environment.

Why do I stick with it? Well, it offers certain unique capabilities that I make heavy use of (selective mail downloading, sophisticated attachment handling, the ability to strip out all text formatting, and several more arcane functions that I would have a hard time living without), and it also houses my email archive. Almost every email that I have sent or received between January 10, 2002 and today is filed by date and at my fingertips the moment I sit down at the computer. I have some earlier stuff as well, but it's not as accessible since they're damaged files that I pulled from dying hard drives in 1999 and 2002 (that being the period where a reasonable backup strategy was entirely too expensive for my meager finances).

I scrutinized the photo and could make out that I was writing to Wormy 'Brad' Knetl and it was a reply to a message he had sent me on April 2, 2002 at 1:24. My heart was pounding. Big, thundering, chest-shaking beats. I couldn't read the draft message in the photo, but I knew I had the final version at home. I knew I could pull it up within thirty seconds getting to my computer. I could look at that message, then the messages from the days before and after and know exactly what was going on with us at the time. I could find that moment and build context up around it until it was a living, breathing instant again.

I speculated that it was an exchange about the redesign that I finalized on April 27, 2002 at 21:49:27 and unleashed on the world a few minutes later. I had been working for weeks on the redesign, and I had made everything XHTML 1.0/CSS2 compliant, which was a brain-eating and soul-destroying exercise. I consulted Brad often during the redesign.

Well, I say "consulted"...the reality is I bitched about it to him constantly and asked him to proof-read stuff and critique the visual presentation. He didn't want to be knee-deep in the redesign—he was happy to be hands off.

When I got home from Brad's parents' house, I pulled up that email from 2002, read it, smiled, and forwarded it to them. It was good to be with Brad through that picture again, through that email again, but it wasn't until I was in bed that night that the significance of the date struck me. April 2nd. On April 2, 2002 I sat down in front of my computer and stole a moment of my day with Brad's camera. I sent him a print of it, probably in a care package, and he squirreled it away in a photo album because that moment I captured meant something to him. On April 2, 2015 I sat down in front of a box of Brad's stuff with his parents and found that moment again, then got relive it when I came home. Thirteen years to the day. What a wonderful, perfect, painful piece of synchronicity.

I miss you, bro. Thank you for saving that moment for me. I'm sorry we can't share any new ones.

James Sinks

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From: James 'Obik' Sinks
To: Wormy 'Brad' Knetl
Subject: Re: now you get to proof read something for me
Date sent: Tue, 2 Apr 2002 01:50:44 -0500

On 2 Apr 2002 at 1:24, Wormy 'Brad' Knetl wrote:

> > Proof read this, and lemme know what you think of it...presentation,
> > readability, coolness factor and all that crap.
> i dig it. it works good for me.

K-cool. Next time I update my page (prob'ly in a week or so), I'll
stick that up. I've got a lot more content planned, including a
Youth Brigade/BYO section, a Bad Brains section where I rip on HR for
being a homophobic, fundamentalist lunatic, the External Menace
discog (finally!) and mebbe a small section devoted the the Chicago

In other words, expect absolutely nothing for months.

Just shot a whole role of film with your camera. They'll probably
all be shit, since I was playing with shutter speeds to figger out
what works.

James' computer on April 8, 2015

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