Eric Engstrom

This morning I received an email telling me Eric Enstrom died.

I probably spent an hour staring off into space thinking about him. I thought about all the things I would say in my blog post. Then I realized I didn’t have enough time in the day to write everything I would need to say. I have too many other things that must be done today. Maybe next weekend I’ll have the time.

Read some of the things I have written about him in the past to get a flavor of my view of him. And know this, he had a tremendous influence on my life. My life would have been unbelievably different without him. I last saw him in March of 2011. I’ve been wanting to “catch up” with him for years and always put it off. Now, it’s too late.

Eric once told me:

I will consider myself rich when I’m standing on the moon with the sunlight reflecting off my visor as I’m looking at my initials carved into the soil. They will be big enough and deep enough that when people on the earth look up they can see I was there.

He wanted me to do that for him because of my experience with explosives. I did the calculations on the line width needed for the font. IIRC it was seven miles. I told Eric it was impractical and his immediate response was, “You just need more explosives.”

That’s just one of dozens of stories I could tell about Eric. And no matter how many stories I told it wouldn’t begin to capture the reality of his personality and genius.

The man who planned to live forever and had plausible visions (as well as crazy ideas) of how to make that happen died from medical complications after dropping a monitor on his foot.

14 thoughts on “Eric Engstrom

  1. i thought you knew. i heard last week from kent; it was quite a surprise…i think i’ve still got my copy of renegades, though i don’t believe eric ever autographed it… from wmp to directx to chromium, he certainly took us for a wild ride…

    • Yes he did.

      You’re another person I haven’t seen in a long time and would like to “catch up with” sometime. Keep that in mind and after the plague risk is minimal, lets have lunch sometime.

  2. I didn’t know Eric very well at all. I knew he was very intelligent, but I felt he was dancing on both sides of the sane/insane line. Since meeting him, I have always been curious about him. I felt that feeding his enormous ego had to place a heavy burden on him. Eric Engstrom was an interesting person to say the least.

    • I worked with him at three different companies from 1988 or 1989 off and on to 2001.

      He had what people called “The Engstrom Reality Distortion Field”. He could make you believe and completely understand things that may not of actually exist or were even possible. A half dozen people in the room would comfortably agree with him. As soon as Eric left the room the belief and understanding would fade and within five minutes you had no idea what Eric had been talking about.

      It was probably about 1999 that he told me that to maintain his lifestyle he needed an income of about $1,000,000 per year.

      He paid to fly Russian jet fighters in simulated combat. He flew on one of the last flights of the Concord. He vacationed in Fuji. He visited brothels (without have sex, he was a hypochondriac and had a great fear of disease) in Thailand just to find out what they were like.

      He told me once of how he knew how to, I forget which, time travel or make warp drive or something. It involved a spinning disk with lots of magnets or something and Plank’s constant. He was sure I would understand because I had a degree in electrical engineering (he did not complete college). I didn’t have a clue and was pretty sure he was wrong but he rattled off some sort of advanced physics concept and I couldn’t be certain he was wrong so I didn’t contradict him.

      I could go on and on and on…

  3. None of us are promised tomorrow. It’s not uncommon for people to die from things most would consider insignificant….an injury that almost everyone should and does recover from. Doesn’t always work that way. And the converse is true. From time to time people survive injuries that SHOULD have killed them. I’ve seen people walk into ER after having done a faceplant in the bathroom. They had full mobility and function…..just were in pain. Upon imaging said person it was discovered they had fractured their neck and the first cervical vertebrae was dislocated more than a centimeter posterior from where should have been in relation to the second vertebrae. They SHOULD have been dead….but the weren’t. That is how life works…..or doesn’t work. It’s often just a crap shoot.
    So plan accordingly…..because NOBODY is promised tomorrow.

  4. The WSJ had a nice obituary for him. I’d never heard of him but I found it interesting to read about him.
    The cause of death mentioned is rather curious: overdose of Tylenol?

    • “overdose of Tylenol?”

      Kills the liver, IIRC. 48hrs later you drop dead. Most other drugs used in an attempted suicide are survivable if you make it to a hospital. Not this one. Even recommended therapeutic doses can cause some liver damage to some people. If you are really forgetful, this is not a drug to have in the household. A sister worked for a research physician, and he told her to stay far away from this drug, as he was seeing that damage from normal use.

      • From the WSJ article (I subscribed just to read the obit):

        He died at a hospital in Seattle. His wife, Cindy Engstrom, said he had injured one of his feet in October, accidentally took too much Tylenol for pain relief and suffered liver damage.

    • According to my calculations, 35 extra strength tylenol pills is an LD50 for a 200 pound man. The maximum dose is 6 per day.

      Since it is a relatively slow kill, he may have had time to be diagnosed with liver failure and know his fate before he lost consciousness.

      I find it to be a peculiar irony that a man who focused so much thought and effort on immortality would die of a Tylenol overdose at the age of 55.

    • I’m not really surprised. He was a hypochondriac and, at least sometimes, self medicated. He once told me a story, in his usual humorous, self-deprecating way, of how he overdosed on, IIRC, vitamin E.

      • For someone with hypochondria, this year was certain to be enormously stressful, enough to throw even a very capable person off their game.
        I’m sorry you lost such a legendary friend and look forward to the stories you choose to share.

  5. I’ve long figured I’d die face down in the muck, alone, penniless and despised. If only it could be that easy.

    • That fits. You do tend to be a bit pessimistic.

      Since shortly after I met Eric I figured I would ride on his coattails, ride starships with warp drive to other solar systems and maybe even other galaxies, as I lived until near the heat death of the universe.

      I’ve been a little depressed since I found out Eric died. I may have to “hitch my wagon” to Elon Musk or someone similar now.

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