I found out yesterday that Mike Beane died. Mike was one of those people in my life who are becoming more and more common: someone with whom I interact a lot online, both professionally and personally, but spend very little, if any, time with in person. I think that the way the news of his death hit me shows how it is possible for relationships in the online world to be just as real as those in the physical world.
I first encountered Mike in the pre-internet days of CompuServe in the early 90s, where we were both active in the FoxPro forums. There was a very active, vibrant community there, and Mike was a very visible part of it. I first met him in person at the FoxPro DevCon in 1995 in San Diego. During that conference I was talking to another online regular, Sue Cunningham, and mentioned that it was great to finally meet her and several others whom I had only known online until then. I mentioned Mike, and she exclaimed "Mike's here? I have to meet him!". I told her that I would make sure that I would find him for her. Later that evening I saw Mike, and told him to stay where he was. I found Sue and brought her over. She looked up at him (he was pretty tall!) and said "Funny, you don't seem tall online!" He didn't quite know how to respond – how does one project height in a text-only world?
The one other time that I met Mike was when I got stuck in O'Hare airport overnight. Bad weather had canceled the final leg of my flight home, and as I had spent the night in O'Hare on two previous occasions, I really didn't feel like doing that again. The only person I knew who lived in Chicago was Mike, so I went to the pay phones and looked through the phone book (geez, does that sound ancient!), and found a listing for a Michael Beane. I called it, and sure enough, it was Mike. I asked him, if it wasn't too much trouble of course, if I could crash on his couch. I was willing to get a cab to take me there, but Mike insisted on picking me up. He took me into his home, introduced me to his wonderful family, and put me up in his daughter Allie's bedroom. The next day he fed me breakfast, hung out with me until it was time to return to the airport, and then drove me to the terminal. He really went out of his way to make me feel welcome.
I really haven't had a lot of contact with Mike since the days when I worked with FoxPro, but he did write me recently to congratulate me on my new job with IBM. I was really saddened to hear of his death last week, and truly feel that I've lost a friend.