RIP, Steven L. Inness

When I was in 7th and 8th grade, at Wilbur Middle School, the school's computer lab had a couple of NorthStar Horizon computers. They were running an operating system called SLIDOS.

It turned out that it was called that because it had been written by a guy named Steven L. Inness. He had gone to Palo Alto High School, and then had stayed in the Palo Alto area, doing various computery things. He occasionally hung out at the Wilbur computer lab, though I vaguely think he spent more time at the computer lab at Jordan, the other middle school. He was in his mid-twenties. I have no idea how he ended up supplying the operating system for the middle school computers, nor whether SLIDOS was available anywhere other than those computers.

I thought of him as Steven, but apparently he was more widely known as Steve. His other main piece of tech that I was aware of was a device he called the Lunar Crooner; it was a (wooden?) box about the size of a cigar box, hung on a strap around his neck, with a set of toggle switches on one side and mysterious electronics inside. By setting the switches, he could make the box generate all sorts of sounds, including phone-related sounds; I think that was my first exposure to the idea of phone phreaking. My father told me about Captain Crunch (I don't remember whether that was in response to my telling him about the Crooner, or whether it was earlier), but Steve actually knew him.

I was never close friends with Steve. He was an interesting guy, and I was impressed at his technical prowess, but I never spent much time with him. But friends of mine did, so I occasionally heard bits and pieces of what he was up to. But I hadn't heard anything about him in some years.

So I was sad to learn last night that he died a couple of years ago, apparently suicide. He had been living in Davis, apparently a familiar face around town, active in various computer- and bicycle-related groups. He was apparently homeless fairly often, but widely known and liked in the community. Various obituaries and memorial articles note that he was hit by a train, and a couple of them mention suicide; I haven't seen an explicit statement that his death was officially ruled a suicide, but that seems to have been generally understood, so I'm guessing that there was such a statement at some point.

Some relevant articles and pages:

(Side note for later searchability: I always thought his last name was spelled “Innes,” with only one S, but a bunch of sources confirm that it was “Inness.”)

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