The Life of Alex King

NB: This is in response to: Alex King passed away on 2015 September 27 after battling cancer for more than two and a half years. Alex was one of the original WordPress developers, and leaves a lasting legacy and impact on the WordPress community.1

Dear Caitlin,

I met your dad at the 2009 WordPress Denver meetup, a “conference created for enthusiasts, users, developers, designers, and fans of WordPress“. It was basically a time to geek out with fellow programmers, developers, and bloggers. I must have know of Alex before I actually met him because I wrote this in my blog:

“It was also great to finally meet Alex King and most of the rest of his crew (Devin, Shawn, Sean, Gordon, and Jeremy) at Crowd Favorite. They did a great job organizing the event and without them this would have never gotten off the ground. I also think that if I ever got tired of engineering and wanted to do web development full time, Alex/Crowd Favorite would be the first person I’d talk to.

Interesting side note: Alex grew up in Seattle just around the block from me. Small world, eh?” (Source:

This was six years ago and I was just about to graduate from the Colorado School of Mines. I moved back to Seattle, not far from where Alex grew up, and have been working at Boeing as an engineer (still not tired of it). I have continued to follow Alex and have have some interaction with him over the years, mostly support related questions. We were, at best, acquaintances.

But that’s not the point. This is:

Over the years, there have been maybe — maybe — five or so people I would go and work for blindly if they called me up…Alex was one of them.

The importance of this sentiment cannot be overstated. There was something very special about him outside of the specialness I’m sure he had as a husband and a father. He was a strong, but humble leader who had vision. He cared about those around him in a way which was empowering and inspiring. And the world was better for it.

Alex actually did offer me a job (or at least an interview…it’s been a while since that conversation, so I may have mis-remembered). I turned it down because I was already committed to Boeing at the time. I’ve always had some regret over that choice — though regret isn’t quite the right word, more a sadness and frustration that I couldn’t be in two places at once.


Andrew Ferguson, PE

  1. Source: Rest in peace, Alex King 

What Are You Going To Do?

On Monday, I found out that I guy I worked with1 who retired earlier this year was diagnosed with kidney cancer a week ago or so. By time the doctors found it, it had already metastasized to the rest his body and doctors were giving him three weeks to live (without treatment) or up to three months with chemo.

Just this morning I found out that he had passed away.


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Death is a bitch, cancer even more so.

My heart is heavy this morning and my prayers are with his family.

I think this also points out an important aspect of life that we sometimes like to overlook: tomorrow could be your last day. We are pretty fragile beings, all things considered.

I once read a report detailing how placing the human head at the top of the body was the worst design flaw ever2 because of how much it exposes a supremely vital organ to all sorts of dangers (falling, impalement, low-hanging ceilings, etc).

I’m not saying that tomorrow is going to be your last day, so don’t act like it is. Just recognize that it could be.

Do I really want to spend all my time working so I can retire and really start living? Shouldn’t I really start living right now, if I’m not already?

Carpe diem; ad proximum convivium.

  1. I knew him by name, but I didn’t work with him on a regular basis 

  2. well, maybe not ever 

RIP Derk Slottow

I got a call today from my friend Dave back in the States, “Hey Ferg, it’s Dave…um…give me a call when you get this…um, it’s pretty important. Talk to you later.”

A rather cryptic message. I called Dave back. I asked what’s up. And that’s when he told me that Derk had died in a kayaking accident.


And for some reason, I’m more ratteled than I would have expected. Maybe it’s because I’m off in a far-away land, and feeling somewhat vulnerable myself…especially now. Maybe because I had a relationship with him. We weren’t best of friends or anything, I had a few classes with him and would see him around campus. If I saw him at the Student Center eating lunch, I’d sometimes go over and eat with him.

I mostly knew him through Dave, since he and Dave kayaked (and I didn’t).

For some reason, I saw him more this laster semester. We talked a lot about my Senior Design project. Derk had even offered to let our team use the CSM Kayaking Clubs’ pool time to test our project out. Unfortunately we never go to that phase. I think Derk wanted to see it actually work (me too, for that matter).

We had our fun, and he was a good friend…no matter the amount of crap I gave him – which, for the record, was quite a bit.

So yea, sad day…Derk, I’m glad to have known you. You will be missed by me and lots of other people. Alot.

On Facebook from the album: "The Year Begins Fall 2007" by Rachael Madland. 21 September 2007. © Rachael Madland.
On Facebook from the album: "The Year Begins Fall 2007" by Rachael Madland. 21 September 2007. © Rachael Madland.

See also: Denver Post: Colorado School of Mines student dies in kayaking accident

As an aside:

One of the interesting things about traveling and technology is how it allows one to remain connected, even when separated by vast distances.

Right now, it would take me at least 24 hours to get back to my house in Seattle. However, I can see my parents face within a mater of milliseconds using Skype.

And while it has been nice to escape most of technology, I still find myself keeping a pulse on the world as I travel. I do this through a variety of methods that ensure my signal to noise ratio is very low1 email, Facebook, Twitter, my blog, and even voicemail (using Google Voice).

This incident, despite the overwhelming sadness, just goes to show how pervasive technology is in our life and how it connects people around the world, literally in this case. Technology is amazing and I am grateful that I live in a world where this is possible and in a society where I’ve had the opportunity.

Photo of Derk with pink hat From the Facebook album:
“Rocky Mountian High Continued…” by Lucy Simpson. 10 November 2007. © Lucy Simpson.

  1. of all the information I look at, most of it I care about 


I’m currently sitting at the airport waiting for my boarding call1. I’ll short board my flight to Seattle. I tweeted last night that I was “going to bed. Leaving for Seattle in the morning.” I received several concerned comments from friends regarding my trip back to seattle, so let me first allay your fears of some impending doom in my life: I am fine. I am simply flying back to Seattle for Ben Towne’s memorial service. I will return on Sunday.

The complete reason behind my desire to attend his memorial service are a mystery even to me. As best I can tell, it’s 33% for me, 34% for Jeff and Carin, and 33% for Ben:

For Ben, I was fortunate enough to meet him a couple times when I was helping Jeff with some computer issues. This was over the summer of 2008 and at that time Ben’s prognosis (at least in my mind) was good. He loved the movie Cars and had an extensive collection of Hot Wheel’s that I’m pretty sure rivaled mine when I was his age.

For Jeff and Carin, because of what Jeff has done for me (perhaps without even knowing it). Jeff (along with a few other key players) was instrumental in my high school Christian experience; and for that, I will always be thankful. Jeff has always been a fantastic youth minister and I hope that he returns to it. I’ve met Carin many times and she’s an absolutely wonderful and energetic person. She’s also a great, and at times humorusly sarcastic, writter. Her updates to Ben’s CaringBridge site were an amazing insight into the hard journey she and Jeff have taken.

For me, this is not the first time I’ve had to deal with a someone dying from cancer, nor (unfortunately) do I suspect it will be my last. Several years ago (early 90’s), I had a cousin, Jesse, die from cancer. The part that makes it difficult was the age difference. Jesse was only 5 months older than me. She was also the only older cousin I had. Her death put a two+ year gap between me and my next eldest cousin, Katie, who is about the same age as Brian (my brother). I didn’t realize it fifteen years ago, and I still can’t grasp the full ramifications of her death. How would my life changed had someone closer to my age been around? We both would have been out of college right now. For years after her passing, my Aunt and Uncle had a bell called the Jesse Bell. I haven’t seen it in recent years and I sometimes wonder where it went.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve asked myself if it’s even worth it to come all this way. Sometimes I think yes, other times I think not. My hope is that I can get can some resolution, both on Ben and Jesse.

  1. Well, I was when I started writing this post. I’m now in Seattle 


I was driving back from a day of skiing at Stevens Pass when Darren shared the news:

“Ben Towne passed away today.”


That’s really all I have to say right now. There’s no way to express the sadness I feel. Instead, I will (again) share this quote that seems rather applicable:

“Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!” (Hamlet Act V, scene ii)


July 17, 2005 – December 30, 2008

Comments closed on this page. Please leave them on the Towne’s CaringBridge page instead:

Update: UPC has posted more details:

Dear Friends,

We have just received the sad news that about 2 a.m. this morning our beloved Ben Towne died. Our hearts break with this reality, and our hearts are comforted by being able to claim that same promise for Ben which Jesus gave, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Let’s include in our prayers Jeff, Carin, and the entire Towne family and network of friends who are grieving.

Claiming the Promise,
Ray Moore
Pastor of Congregational Care

Sarah Plants

Ben recently told me that a casual acquaintance of ours, Sarah Plants, had recently passed away due to cancer. I didn’t know her very well, but saw her quite a bit since she played Ultimate Frisbee on the UW team. Doug, her husband, also lived at Your Mom’s House last year with Ben and Quinn, so she was over quite a bit. I last saw her at Thanksgiving and she seemed very happy.


Plants, 22, died Feb. 7 of a brain tumor linked to Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, the same rare hereditary disorder that claimed the lives of her father and brother. She was diagnosed with the disorder in October.

Plants had survived cancer as a toddler. She suffered from adrenal cortical carcinoma, or cancer of the adrenal gland above the kidney, and went through chemotherapy at 16 months old.

Plants was 29 credits short of earning a degree in Public Health. When she died, the University gave her an honorary degree. She had planned to go to graduate school to study nursing.

She was captain of the UW Element women’s Ultimate Frisbee team and the coach of an Ultimate team at Whitman Middle School.

Death is a bitch, cancer even more so.

Last in the Cat Pack

Back during sophomore year, I was living with Ben, Chris, Mike and Jens. We also picked up three cats: Dunstan, Kitty and Quantum…the Cat Pack. Dunstan is my cat and Quantum and Kitty were Ben’s. Last year, Kitty was hit by a car and Ben had to put him down.

Ben is Chicago looking at graduate schools, but Chris came over today (we’re flatmates now) and wanted to know what I was doing. He hadn’t seen Quantum in a few days, which was unusual, so he went out looking for him.

The news wasn’t good.

And now there is one. I’ll be keeping Dunstan in now for sure (at least while I’m living at this location) since I used to let him roam outside on the warm days.

If I had known that on that day our time was near the end
I would have done things differently, my forever friend.
I would have stayed right next to you deep into the night
but I thought I’d see you in the early morning light.

And so I said “Good night” to you as I walked in through the door
never thinking of the time when I’d see you no more.
But if I had known that on that day our time was at the end
I would have done things so differently, my forever friend.

Written by Sally Evans for Shoo-Fly

Sad Times

I’ve been pretty busy this past week, mentally, physically, and emotionally. When I get this busy, my regular habits (for better or for worse) start to drop off. I hold off on checking/responding to email, I let me feeds go unread for days at a time and I pretty much just generally unplug from the world while I deal with what’s at hand (in this case: finals). To give you an idea of how far behind I am, I have 250 emails in my inbox and 828 unread feeds I currently have.

Unfortunately, life goes on; and with life’s continuance, death also continues.

That’s what this post is about. Two great people passed away this week: Marc Orchant and Anita Rowland.

While I had never met Marc in person, I have read his posts online and I know people who have meet him. All indications I have say that he was a kind and caring gentleman who really knew what was going on. Marc suffered massive heart attack about a week and a half ago. While he never regained consciousness, he was reportedly getting better. Around 3pm on Sunday, Marc suddenly passed away.

In contrast, Anita had been battling cancer since 2003. However, her death was also as unexpected as Marc’s. I’m glad I am able to say that I did have the pleasure of meeting Anita several times over the years at the few Blogger Meetups I was able to attend. I remember that Anita was always very kind to me and created a very welcoming environment.

While I will miss them both, I think I find it hardest to watch the people still alive who had a greater connection to Marc and Anita then I did. To see the depth of their sorrow and know that there is nothing I can do to ease it.

TDavid has a nice recounting of his interaction with Marc and Anita.

Chris Pirillo also has a very touching video on YouTube.

However, I think Warner Crocker summed it up best:


“Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!” (Hamlet Act V, scene ii)

Death is a bitch.