Telsa Gwynne at GUADEC 2001. Photo by Ole Tange, distributed under the Open Publication License.
I can't say that she was a close friend, but we knew each other since way back in time. She was a constant companion in search of good food and during several free software conferences, she and I took the lead of a group of hackers, finding them nourishment for the night and day ahead. So I was saddened today to learn that Telsa Gwynne has passed away.
My first exchange with Telsa was around Christmas of 1998. We were talking about Christmas gifts, and whether Alan Cox, her husband, wouldn't like to get a nice printout of RFC-1149, the "Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers". Little did we know at the time that Alan would later support a group of Norwegian hackers in actually implementing that very specification!
Telsa never had an easy time in the free software community. From the very early days when we started talking, she was frequently and repeatedly abused by people trying to use her to get to her husband. Over the years, she withstood harassment and abuse of almost any sort from people in the free software community. She got to witness first hand the darkest corners of our community and the worst kind of people anyone can ever imagine.
Some of Telsa's contribution to the free software community before that included a lot of work on explaining GNOME to people. She served on the GNOME Foundation's Board of Directors, contributed translations and wrote comprehensive FAQs about both GNOME and the GNOME Foundation.
Telsa was also one of our early volunteers for the Free Software Foundation Europe, lending her keen eye as proofreader to much of our English material, and supporting our early activities in the UK.
For myself though, I'll mostly remember the laughs we shared. One, where in 1999, we discovered people searching Google for "wrestling teams without clothes on" and landing on her blog. I'll also remember the stories she told, and I'll take the opportunity here to include her take on the story of child Merlin:
Carmarthen is about 30 miles to the west, in a very Welsh area indeed. A lot of my lectures were there, as the mental health section of the nursing department of Swansea University was based there. I used to travel there and back daily. My cousins also live out that way. Carmarthenshire is a very rural county: it's farming land. Carmarthen (or Caerfyrddin) means "Merlin's castle", by the way. It's the location of a famous story to do with the child Merlin. Merlin was summoned by the king at the time, who couldn't understand why the foundations for his castle kept vanishing. His wizards told him he needed to sacrifice Merlin to allow the castle to be built.
Merlin proved the wizards wrong by telling the king that there was a casket at the bottom of a lake. The lake was causing the foundations to vanish. The lake was drained, allowing the castle to be built. Inside the casket were two dragons, who flew into the air when it was opened. They were the white dragon of the Saxons and the red dragon (on the flag) of the Welsh.