I Am Joe’s Blog:

July 9, 2011 • 4:59 PM

The Nisus Temporal Vortex

A curious confluence of events has occurred.

Recently, I wrote a review of Nisus Writer Pro 2.0 for TidBITS in which I made the point that this new version finally restores much of what the Nisus Writer of the mid-1990s lost during the transition to Mac OS X. And, I said that being able to do real work in this outstanding application feels like coming home again after years of wandering in the wilderness. I also mentioned, in a different context, that “I remained in Nisus’s gravitational pull” for a long time. But as it turns out, it’s more than that. I appear to be caught in a full-on Nisus temporal vortex.

Last night I downloaded a copy of Marathon for iPad. Mac gamers with a nostalgic streak remember Marathon as being a great, early first-person shooter. I remember it as being the game that all the guys at Nisus would play on the company’s network after hours. I was never much of a gamer, but I played Marathon (rather poorly) for the social interaction, which conveniently required no actual human contact. When I think of Marathon, I think of my years working at Nisus. That it should come out at just the time I’m able to start using Nisus Writer again felt mildly significant.

But then things got more interesting. Today, Morgen, Soren, and I had lunch with Rev. Heng Sure, a Buddhist monk I met while I was working at Nisus. (He happened to be in Paris for a special event and invited us to stop by for a visit.) The story is this. Back in 1996, I was planning a trip to Berkeley to give a talk at the Berkeley Mac User Group (BMUG) about Nisus Writer, since I’d just written a book about it (The Nisus Way). A fax arrived at Nisus with my name on it, from this mysterious fellow in Berkeley named Heng Sure. He explained that he was a Buddhist monk, that he’d enjoyed reading my book on Nisus Writer, that he’d heard I was going to be in Berkeley, and that he was hoping I might be persuaded to stop by the monastery for a cup of tea so he could meet me and get my autograph. The fax included his email address, so I decided to email him back to say sure, I’d be happy to.

A day or two later I received this reply:

Subject:     surely this is a test
Sent:        8/22/96 8:37 PM
Received:    8/22/96 9:08 PM
From:        Rev. Heng Sure, paramita@sirius.com
To:          Joe Kissell, joe@nisus-soft.com

Your message was tantalizing, with the by-line "your fax", then the 
body of the message completely blank. Being a monk of the Ch'an (Zen) 
school, I first assumed that you were making a statement about 
sunyata, the ultimate hollow core at the heart of all conditioned, 
component things. Then I reflected that not everybody is a Zen master, 
and perhaps you simply hit delete command-x instead of paste command-c? 
It was still blank. I figured it must be a test of my sincerity. Did I 
really want to attend your talk at BMUG?

That option left me still hungry to know your reaction to my message, 
which is where I remain, bemused, and unenlightened about your visit to 
Berkeley. So relying on your compassion, may I request a repeat of your 
message to my fax? If it turns up blank again, I will put my palms 
together, and contemplate the void at the heart of binary reality, as 
you so instruct. :->

Peace in the Dharma,

Heng Sure

I think that was the best email message I’ve ever received. I wrote back, we made the appropriate arrangements, and long story short, I’ve been pleased to count Heng Sure as a friend ever since. (I have more great stories about him, which I may share at some point in the future.)

Anyway, I hadn’t seen him since his last visit to Paris, almost four years ago. So it was great to catch up. During the course of our discussion he asked me if I’d heard about the album he put out in 2008. He said that besides selling it on iTunes and CD Baby, he was making the MP3 files available free to anyone who performed an act of kindness and wrote to tell him about it. That seemed like a nice idea, but when I went to the Web site, I had some problems. I wrote to tell him about them:

I went to your Web site (http://www.dharmaradio.org/paramita/) and 
tried to click both of the "Acts of Kindness" links. The one at the 
top of the page pointed to http://media.berkeleymonastery.org/paramita/ 
and that said "Server Error 403 - Forbidden: Access is denied." The one 
at the bottom of the page pointed to http://www.dharmatreasure.org/
paramita, which told me "Sorry, there's no such page." And, when I click 
the iTunes link on the "Purchase CD" page I get an error message from 
Apple! I just thought I should inform you about those so you can see 
about repairing the links...unless this is an exercise in contemplating 
emptiness, in which case, it's a novel approach that I quite 
appreciate :-). Meanwhile, I did a manual search for your album on iTunes 
and made a $9.99 donation. Downloading now!

I think that’s the appropriate way to complete the circle. Or more likely, it just keeps on spinning.

(By the way, there is a real, functioning iTunes link if you look hard enough.)