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Echoes of Roger - Title

By Michael K. Kato

I have always thought of Roger Boisvert as a trusted friend for the seven or eight years I knew him. Although he was obviously several years my senior, he was always so friendly, open, congenial, warm, and with a slightly self-depreciating humor that made him extremely accessible.

I probably met him at a Tokyo PC Users Group meeting sometime in 1993, right around when I started working on the then forthcoming Computing Japan magazine with Terrie Lloyd, Bill Auckerman, Ted Mills, and an assorted cast of energetic but inexperienced publishers, editors, writers, and sales staff. I had heard of Roger first in the editorial office, a name already spoken of in bright lights as the man who started the first ISP in Japan, IIKK, a undisputable coup d'etat and de grace over so many Japanese industrial giants in obtaining the inaugural MITI license as a public Internet Service Provider in Japan. But then again, at that time, even prior to Netscape, I was only vaguely aware of the wonders of the Internet, discovering in flightingly brief encounters the wonders of email and the strange hypnotic swirls of Gopher, Usenet, Telnet, and BBS's.

Soon thereafter, before I could even think of myself as a computer user, I found myself attending International Computer Association meetings, where, again, I met Roger amidst a whole new crowd of distinguished (mostly) gentlemen. Here, people seemed to wear with pride the underlying thought that they were not computer users, per se, but, rather, the creators of systems, networks, and the fundamental functions that the computers and computer users used. At the time, there were very few people who ventured between the two organizations. In fact, many in the TPC viewed the members of the ICA with derision, and vice versa. But in Roger Boisvert, I found, timidly, at first, a kindred spirit - -one person who wore with pride the belief that as a computer user he was best able to think about the business of using, selling, and making use of computers and information technology.

Still, with the difference in age, experience, and the ability to command respect, I preferred at that time to observe, rather than participate in, much of the Japanese Internet history being created by Roger and many around him. From the subsequent business with TWICS to the sale of IIKK to PSI Net, to the appointment of future Japan Internet and Venture Business mogul Joichi Ito as president of PSI, to the establishment of Global OnLine, like so many others saw Roger as one of the biggest movers and shakers on Japan's Internet driven IT horizon in the mid 90's.

Capital I

t is during this time that I slowly started to explore the depths and breadth of the Internet myself, first as a user, then as an interloper, a small time developer, and, finally as a like-minded colleague. Starting with friends closer to my own age and with a similar exuberance to cover for the lack of experience (and the aforementioned ability to command respect), I began my Internet excursions with guys who ended up forming Cyber Technologies International, John, Nori, James, and Nick the names I remember best. Sharing a taste for Cyberpunk novels and a disdain for corporate politics helped me to get along in this crowd, and it is among these friends that I discovered Mosaic, Netscape, and, ultimately, the joys and horrors of HTML.

Capital L

ater, after a stint with the Internet Access Center as my ISP, like so many friends throughout the international community of Japan, I ended up with GOL as my Internet Service Provider. By this time, circa 1997, I'd made my first bilingual Website, done a site localization for a then major U.S. networking company, and then proceeded on to various work in Internet development, project management, and quality assurance. During 1997, working for CTI, I became obsessed with the power of PUSH and PULL technologies, and was fascinated with development work on IE4 Channels and the Active Desktop. During this period, I continued to see Roger in the TPC, ICA, and elsewhere, but less as a guru and more as a mentor and friend.

Capital C

ccasionally, we discussed various technologies, happenings, people, or life, in general, and Roger would say, or snicker, that I am so willing to work for everyone else except him. To me, this felt so good and reassuring--a tremendous confidence booster--to hear this man whom I held for so long in awe say something to the effect that he would love to have me work for him!

Capital T

hen, sometime around this same time, I discovered, close to home, another side of Roger that I respect and loved. It was at the Santa Maria International School in Shimoshakujii, Nerima Ward. I lived only five minutes from the school, and really enjoyed their various bazaars and fairs. It is an international school with a different flavor and feel from so many of the other international schools. With a very international representation, the summer bazaar features foods from, perhaps, 20 countries, including India, Pakistan, Iran, the Philippines, Thailand, Korea, China, Indonesia, Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, the United States, and Japan. At one of the summer bazaars, probably in 1997, I met Roger in the school courtyard. We talked briefly, about his kids attending the school, when a loudspeaker announced some assorted welcomes and thank yous. One was, of course, for Roger Boisvert, and GOL, for donating many of the school' computers, network, and Internet connection. As he walked away amidst the applause, Roger said to me that it was just a little that he could do to repay for the great education his kids got at the school.

Capital L

ater, probably the same year, I heard that Roger had gotten into a pretty bad accident on his motorcycle. After his hospitalization, what I remember most is his walking with the cane that became, for a time, one of his trademarks. One time, I ran into Roger before an ICA meeting. It was a dreary night in November, I think, and rain was imminent. I was getting off my motor scooter, not the big bike that Roger rode, but, nevertheless, a two-wheeled machine that gave me freedom of movement and a sense of independence. Roger said then, with a very convincing but ominous advice, that I should be careful, especially in the rain. He didn't want me to do what he did and end up, well, walking with a cane. On the way home that night, after the ICA meeting, I crashed my scooter, totaling it, spraining my right knee and hip, and ended up on crutches for two weeks.

Capital I

n the subsequent years, as the business of Internet access, content development, and Web interactivity boomed, and the terms Internet, Intranet, an Extranet became ubiquitous; felt more and more that Roger and I were orbiting similar paths. Sometime in late 1998 or early 1999, Roger approached me after a TPC meeting at Shakey's, and offered me the opportunity to purchase a few of his personal shares in GOL stock. He said that he could use the cash, and that I would not regret the investment opportunity. Roger was, then, as always, foreboding, and true to his word. I couldn't easily access liquidity at the time, so, within a year, I was to regret it.

Capital L

ate in 1999, GOL completed its acquisition by Exodus Communications, in one of Tokyo's most stunning and noteworthy milestones in its brief Internet history. In one fell swoop, it seemed, Roger had built a mountain out of piles of dung, through years of servicing the downtrodden, abandoned international community in Tokyo, and sold the assets of the years of toil to a conspicuous Internet Goliath. To many of us in Tokyo at that time, Roger grew in stature and aura, from friend and mentor to the exalted. Still, while he had less and less time to attend things like the TPC, ICA, and CODE-J, and more speaking engagements, big business meetings, conferences, and the like, when he did find the time to hang out, Roger was still just Roger. Nothing more. Still smoking cigs outside, warm but somewhat mischievous smile, and, always, one of the boys. Lots of history, good friendly advice, fun stories, humor, a bit of trashy schoolboy laughs, and some kind word dropped in to make you feel good.

Capital S

ometime thereafter, many of us could see that Roger was heading toward a new horizon, related to the past but pointed again directly towards the Future. Soon, we found the new passion unfolding as CTR Ventures, a VC firm, that many of us felt would finally enable many of us--computer users, developers, colleagues, friends, and also, fundamentally, outsiders--to realize our Internet and IT dreams. On a couple of occasions, I shared parts of my business passions--and a sliver of my business plan--with Roger. As always, he shared his thoughts and advice, freely and without condescension. He was encouraging, even rapt. Made me feel that all of my doubts, fears, and cloudy reservations were wasting me the opportunity to move forward.

Capital I

n the last year, I saw Roger only a few times. He seemed busier and busier, but also enjoying the wild ride. I received, like many other friends and family, a few months back, an invitation to privately invest in a small slice of CTR Ventures. Again, with little liquidity, and, besides, with an ongoing venture business I didn't invest. This time, though, rather than the regret that I probably lost a chance at a real financial windfall; I lost my last chance to be a partner, even in a very limited sense, with Roger Boisvert.

Capital T

hrough the past eight or so years, passing in similar circles, I often felt moved by Roger, something like a ripple in a pond after a stone's throw. Along so many roads, it seemed--computer user, Internet explorer, service provider, content provider, application service provider, data center, venture capital, consultant, and, ultimately, biker, mountaineer, and outdoorsman--our paths crossed and were intertwined. Strange, too, that his life ended in Los Angeles, where I was born and raised. I left early, at 17, never to live there again. I visit family there, but I never feel at ease in LA. It just seems, to me, to be so flat, heavy, hot, dry, and lost. Now, it will be forever an even more desolate place, for the city that gave me my start has taken a Brother.

Capital G

oodbye, Roger.

Capital T

hanks for the friendship.

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

November, 2001

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN