I was saddened to find out only recently that Vern Buerg had died in December, 2009.
Vern always impressed me as somewhat retiring, not aloof by any means, probably more shy or quiet than anything else but that was just my impression and I can’t say we were close friends. However I respected and admired him so much that I felt compelled to create a page about my experiences with him.
I can’t recall exactly when we met, certainly it was online on CompuServe, probably in 1982 or 1983. I am pretty sure that he was a sysop on the HAM radio SIG (special interest group) at the time. I recall that his CIS user id was 70007,1212 and was pleased to find a few references to it on search engines.
While I don’t recall the specifics of our first meeting but it might have very well been as a result of his work on AutoSIG, the first automation program for the PC that ran on CompuServe. It seemed like a great idea to me so we set up a section on IBMCOM and started in on a “group” hack with Vern taking the lead. Several others joined/left the group over the span of the project but Vern was always the anchor.
Not being much of a programmer I didn’t help much and it was a mammoth project. It was written in BASIC and compiled with BASCOM (Basic Compiler v. 1.0, just a miserable excuse for a compiler). I don’t think we ever made the conversion to QuickBASIC but regardless it was limited to 64K of program space and it was a tight fit. I’ve tried to recall the name of the program we used to squish all the code by reducing variable names, etc. but it escapes me but needless to say it was a major job to create a full communications program with integrated editor, automated scripts, address book, etc. into a HLL limited to 64k of program space (in fact that might have been shared space with code and data). But Vern did it. I’ll never figure out how.
Vern also created List, an excellent utility for DOS and in it’s day often referred to as “the program that Microsoft forgot”. Written in assembler it was small, fast and one of the must have programs of it’s day. You will continue to find many references to Vern’s List on the web to this day.
And just loads of utilities; all the small ARC-* single use programs for handling ARC files (the ZIP files of that day), a booklet printer and probably much more that I’ve forgotten. Mostly all in assembler.
But it wasn’t just PC code that Vern could write, prior to the PC he did software for mainframes.
Bottom line Vern was one of the top five programmers I’ve known. And I’ve known a lot of programmers.
We probably only met in person a half dozen times. I recall that Wes Meier, Scott Loftesness, Vern and I attended one of the West Coast Computer Fairs in San Francisco. Another time I trecked from Petaluma to Vern’s place in Daly City to deliver a Bernoulli drive we’d done in a group buy.
Then one day he mentioned that he was married to Julie and living in Petaluma, just miles away. That was classic Vern, always low key. But he and Julie were a great match, Vern was low key and I’ll never forget Julie’s bigger than life laugh.
I also recall that in June, 1991 Julie and Vern hosted the 3rd annual grubfest at the Marin Cheese company for users of their respective bulletin boards; Motherboard and VOR. I can now reveal that VOR stood for Vern-O-Rama. I still have the t-shirt else I couldn’t be so sure about the date….
Even though we lived close didn’t see each other much but I’ll always remember July, 1991 when I helped with assembling the binders, disks, etc. for List Enhanced. Seems there had been a delay in producing either the manuals or the discs, they were either past due or close to past due going out so an all out marathon was required. As is often with these things it turned out to be a lot of fun with buckets of coffee and some of Julie’s excellent chili. As payment I made Vern, Julie and their daughter, Jennifer, sign the box List Enhanced came in. Managed to scan it and it’s below.
We left California shorly thereafter and that was probably the last time I saw Vern in person.
While Vern was hard to figure out I do know for a fact that he would be somewhat baffled or bemused by all this. He was certainly modest and never seemed to think that his talents were anything special. They were.
So long Vern. You were a great guy, very smart and talented and are remembered.