Monday, June 16, 2008

Various Images

These are images from various SSIT events provided by Clint Andrews.

Some Remembrances of Brian O’Connell

I knew Brian through a professional society to which we both belonged, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE. Typically, although we both rose to leadership positions, neither of us was an electrical engineer. I want to share just a few recollections of Brian in that context.

A dozen years ago, I ran our annual conference on technology and society, which was at Princeton University in New Jersey that year. Brian was thinking about leaving lawyering for academia, and he somehow found out about the conference and showed up. It was the first time I met him. One of the conference sessions was missing a moderator, and two old geezers on the panel got into a fistfight over who invented the modem (remember modems?). This level of anarchy so impressed Brian that he told me "I’m joining this group, and heading to academia!" He went on to become president of that society, and with his sense of the absurd, he clearly fit right in.

Five years ago, we were at a successor conference in Amsterdam, with a distinguished Superior Court judge in tow. We were determined to get the judge drunk and let him loose on the streets of Amsterdam. We bought him drinks—very expensive ones, it turned out, because he liked the name brand liquors. I soon realized that the judge was drinking me under the table. It was at that moment that I also realized that Brian was drinking seltzer water, and that he didn’t indulge at all in alcohol during the years I knew him. He set some very clear guidelines for himself.

Several years ago, we were at a big board meeting in some U.S. city, maybe San Francisco, or Kansas City, or Minneapolis, or Phoenix—those hotel meeting rooms were all interchangeable. Maybe Sarah remembers. The room was full of 100 bored big shots suffering through the tedium of parliamentary procedure with their laptops open, reading CDs full of documents because WiFi wasn't yet ubiquitous. Although we were sitting on opposite sides of a big room, Brian and I discovered that we had the only Macs in a room of full of Wintel PCs. We further discovered that we were both Bluetooth-enabled (that was cool back then) and could communicate using an instant messaging program (also somewhat novel back then). Brian typed in a description of his recent mission as a mediator between a journal editor and a society president in Bosnia or Serbia, where one was suing another over editorial policy, of all things. Brian had to mediate without having a common language with either party, in a country that was still a war zone. This vision made me snort with laughter, which in turn got Brian laughing, and made the other meeting participants wonder what had gotten into us. They subsequently banned our cool communication technology from all future IEEE board meetings. Brian was irreverent, but always a peacemaker.
Finally, a few years ago, Brian learned of my fondness for Celtic music, and we often talked about it, because of course he was an accomplished musician in exactly that genre. One day a pair of CDs appeared in the mail, ripped from his collection and labeled "Clint’s Scottish" and "Clint’s Irish." I think of them today as "Brian’s Scottish" and "Brian’s Irish" music because shared them so thoughtfully. You and I miss him terribly, of course, but Brian lived a fun-loving, generous, purposeful, engaged, full, and lively life in the years he had.

--Clint Andrews
I first met Brian in the fall of 2003, during my freshmen year at CCSU, in my “Writing and Research” class. Brian spoke enthusiastically and eloquently about the endless and exciting possibilities we, the students, were going to face in life. His tone was so positive and his manner so incredibly convincing that even I found myself believing that a substantial portion of his message was indeed true.

As anyone knowing Brian would reasonably expect, the course was of superior quality and the students walked out of it as individuals better equipped to ask important questions, as better writers, and as better thinkers. After the course had been over, it looked to me that Brian was simply going to stay in my memory as an excellent teacher, someone who, in a relatively short time, left a permanent impression on me by teaching me new skills and by positively influencing my outlook on life.

One rainy evening in 2005, Brian and I bumped into each other in front of a library and we quickly engaged in a delightful conversation, at the end of which we were determined to stay in touch and collaborate academically. And we did. After that seemingly incidental meeting, we enjoyed plenty of fascinating discourse, discussing a wide variety of subjects: medical ethics, lives of famous mathematicians, languages, history, chemistry, travel and sports, just to name a few.

When my days were gloomy, Brian used his enthusiasm and wit to make them brighter and he always succeeded in doing so. In one of our conversations, Brian said, “There are ways to get past a bad result, as long as energy can be kept up.” Brian continued to fill his students, myself included, with this energy even as his own energy levels became depleted when reality had to interject the human dimension of cancer and its negative possibilities. Brian never ceased to impart strength, encouragement, and faith in his students. His legacy will continue through our own hard work and commitment to learning, and most importantly, keeping that critical component, the energy, as high as possible so that we can continue to make Brian, our beloved teacher, mentor, and friend, proud.

-- Anna Gawkowska
You are and will be missed, Scoop.

-- LT (aka Sarah Pfatteicher)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Friday, June 13, 2008

I had the privilege of co-teaching HON 140 with Brian on three occasions. He was a perfect partner for this enterprise. His broad range of interests and expertise inspired our students to view all of knowledge as their domain, to become like Brian, "Renaissance" women and men. Brian chose texts that were provocative and provided a springboard to discussion and debate—from Playing Darts with a Rembrandt by Joseph Saks to the Little Book of Plagiarism by Richard Posner. During this past year as he waged his battle with cancer, he kept up his spirits. On the days he was able to come to class his enthusiasm for teaching and for his students was still evident. We have lost a great teacher and a dear friend.

Tim Craine
Brian was a neighbor who came always forward to help – I was never able to thank him enough for the countless favors over the years. Brian was a colleague, whose professional opinion I sought on so many occasions – he can never be replaced, and his loss will leave a huge gap for all of us, who had the privilege to work with him. Brian was a friend, whose friendly advice I have benefited from so many times. Brian was special -- I will miss his enormously.

Dear Sarah, please accept my deepest sympathy and sincerest condolences.

Neli Zlatareva, CS Dept.

West Hartford Man

Although he was raised in a supremely genteel and civilized household (and city), Brian O'Connell was a wild man in my eyes. The shock of untamed blond hair flowing behind him, the tie (if there was one) dangling like an errant jungle vine, the eager hunt for the next exciting new thing--all these were his distinctive characteristics. Yet in other ways Brian epitomized what was best about civilization, for he had an interest in every important aspect of human endeavor: music, technology, ethics, the law, history, politics, the Red Sox, video games, feline appreciation.

We will miss you, wild man, as you move beyond us to swing through the cosmos.

--Wendy Peek