Terry A. Davis (1969-2018)
September 11, 2018 5:28 AM   Subscribe

Terry Davis, creator of TempleOS (originally called LoseThos) - the biblically-themed operating system discussed previously, previouslier, and previousliest - passed away in mid-August while travelling on "his Great Western Adventure" through Nevada, Arizona, California, Washington and Oregon.

Terry died in an apparent train accident in The Dalles, Oregon (sub. req.)

In the wake of his passing, his family has requested supporters of his donate to "organizations working to ease the pain and suffering caused by mental illness" such as:
posted by Pinback (51 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
The rumors about his death started circulating last week, but were impossible to confirm by anybody outside Davis' circle because of trolls being shitty and going as far as creating fake Facebook accounts for Davis' family.

He had a rough life and wasn't easy for anybody to get along with, which must have exacerbated his own problems. It's sad to hear he's passed.
posted by ardgedee at 5:46 AM on September 11 [7 favorites]

posted by evilDoug at 5:47 AM on September 11

The "previousliest" link in the OP includes participation from Terry: There was a period when he was responding to any discussions of LoseThos anywhere on the internet, and that included Metafilter.
posted by ardgedee at 5:48 AM on September 11 [7 favorites]

posted by quinndexter at 5:58 AM on September 11


Computational theology has been greatly impoverished by his passing.
posted by acb at 5:59 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]

posted by Splunge at 6:02 AM on September 11

I saw an article about his passing, and had to pause a minute.

A few centuries ago, when religion permeated a lot of culture and when science was called "natural philosophy," it would have been less remarkable for someone to create an enormous work of the mind and center it all on God. These days we're more secular, and people can either have a "passion" or a "hobby" that they pour their labor into.

R.I.P., Terry, you built something wholly your own.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:04 AM on September 11 [20 favorites]

That previousliest link is something. His interactions in that thread almost feels like some kind of guerilla style art, but I realize it's much more than that. I'm not trying to make light of his work or his interactions on MetaFilter, as I can also see he struggled with mental health and was very driven and passionate about his work/beliefs. What an interesting man.

posted by Fizz at 6:11 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]

posted by jcreigh at 6:34 AM on September 11

posted by Kattullus at 6:36 AM on September 11

The little I know, and the littler I understand, of his life and work, suggest to me someone who, despite the massive burdens of his illness, was trying to make something worthwhile in the short life we each get. He seems to have been the only person capable of making an assessment about whether he succeeded. I am sorry for all the pain that he clearly endured, and grateful for whatever determination or defiance impelled him to keep struggling to achieve something that mattered very deeply to him.

posted by howfar at 6:38 AM on September 11 [5 favorites]


I still think think about this Metafilter comment he made sometimes:
How do you measure how much work God does in a random event?

posted by the_querulous_night at 6:53 AM on September 11 [16 favorites]

I do too.

You have to take God with a grain of salt. He's not prophetic. All you can do is love His company

Lots to parse there, and in his other comments for that matter.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:20 AM on September 11 [8 favorites]

posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:23 AM on September 11

I am sorry to hear of Terry's demise. Fascinating project, truly unique. Mad props to him. I'll pour one out for him tonight.

There was some guy I spoke to once many years ago, I forget his name, he was trying to get his OS into the military for consideration and evaluation as a secure platform.. I think it was linux based tho. I remember thinking that some of the features he said were in the OS were just so "out there" that they couldn't possibly be incorporated into any sort of program without the use of magic or perhaps God. Either way, there was nothing *I* could do for him because I was not a decision maker... I wish I could remember his name or the name of his OS, I'm pretty sure it wasn't Mefi's own losethos (Terry) tho..

anyways I always wondered what happened to that guy. He reminded me of Terry anyhow, from what I've read. Super interesting, but inhabiting a modified, augmented, fundamentally different reality from my own.

posted by some loser at 7:25 AM on September 11

posted by tommasz at 7:30 AM on September 11

Oh how sad.

The article from The Dalles newspaper is very good, here's a full text copy (CW: mental illness, suicide) that someone posted to Hacker News. It does an excellent job explaining the beauty and unusual nature of his work on TempleOS. Way more detailed than you'd expect from a local newspaper, particularly for someone from out of town.

It talks quite a bit about his mental illness and death. Apparently he had a violent side serious enough that local police departments passed on warnings to each other. Also this detail makes me terribly sad
He said Davis had posted hours and hours of videos over the years, but because he believed God’s 11th commandment was to not litter, he deleted a lot of his videos “littering” the internet just before his death.
I've never been comfortable with how the Internet, myself included, lionized TempleOS. It's a remarkable technical achievement and beautiful. It's also clearly a symptom of untreated mental illness, a sickness that led to a difficult life for Terry and maybe his death. I wish he could have found treatment that worked for him.

I find myself thinking about once a year about Phil Agre, a technologist and writer who seems to have been lost to mental illness. After he disappeared in 2009 his Internet friends, including Metafilter, went looking for him. Police found him in 2010 and said he was "in good health and self sufficient" and wanted to be left alone. I can find nothing about him since. I hope he's OK.
posted by Nelson at 7:31 AM on September 11 [16 favorites]

posted by Going To Maine at 7:33 AM on September 11

posted by hap_hazard at 7:47 AM on September 11

Mental illness is a hell of a thing.
posted by odinsdream at 7:47 AM on September 11

posted by the list of suspects is just you at 7:58 AM on September 11

posted by lazaruslong at 8:28 AM on September 11


I'm another person who often thought of TempleOS and Terry's work often.

I'm typing this on a blisteringly fast modern PC that nonetheless frequently grinds to a halt thanks to the resource demands of applications like Discord and Slack (and now Skype), whose implementations require orders of magnitude more system resources than they might otherwise. This is because of their reliance on cross-platform frameworks optimized for programmer convenience, with performance and user experience being distantly secondary concerns.

Does your computer feel fast? It does not, and programmer convenience is why.

I think often, too, of a term coined by Neal Stephenson: "Amistics." It refers to the cultural mores surrounding the use of technology—specifically, the avoidance of doing certain things in certain ways on principle (the derivation being "like the Amish.")

I'm convinced there's something to this. I wish there were an amistic deprication of programmer convenience.

One of Terry's convictions seemed to be a fundamental dissatisfaction with the ways in which modern software denies users direct access to the astonishing speed of modern CPUs. The operating systems and applications we use are constructed from a bewildering array of components, compromised by opaque corporate politics and ultimately only incidentally designed with the user's best interests in mind. When I think about how good and fast my computer could be versus how slow and shitty is often is, it makes me hair-singingly angry. But I'm a semi-competent scripter at best; I can't write my own app, let alone my own system.

Terry could, and did.

I hope that his work becomes more broadly known as the masterpiece of outsider art that it is; I hope someone takes the opportunity to look at his code and understand what was good and righteous about it; not just righteous per Terry's own rubric, but righteous in terms of its amistics.
posted by Sokka shot first at 8:36 AM on September 11 [29 favorites]

posted by OverlappingElvis at 8:42 AM on September 11

posted by not_the_water at 8:54 AM on September 11

posted by Cash4Lead at 9:34 AM on September 11

I hope that his work becomes more broadly known as the masterpiece of outsider art that it is

I feel like "outsider art" is probably the best description of TempleOS yet it's also not very good - "outsider art" is characterized by a lack of attention to artisan skills. I think Terry really had a pretty good understanding of computer science, he simply had different goals. I feel bad for the suffering his mental illness must have caused him but at the same time he lived out his principles. It's sad he ended up homeless and that he seemed to have taken his own life. I'm glad he lived and worked on his vision and that I got to see it however indirectly.
posted by GuyZero at 9:36 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


I've been waiting for this post, especially since I found it so depressing I couldn't make it. This whole story is depressing and indicative of many things, particularly about how society often treats people with mental illness.

Terry was no saint, mind, and had a lot of problems, especially how he treated his parents and the people in his life as evidenced on some live streams.

It's also weird to think that the only real differences between someone like Terry and people like Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs - or perhaps more apt - Richard Stallman may be just a few degrees of difference in how social they are, the privilege they were dealt and maybe just a few thousand neurons linked slightly differently.

Terry could have written something like NeXT or BeOS or Linux. He could have been Linus Torvalds.

May you find root and home, Terry.

posted by loquacious at 10:30 AM on September 11 [16 favorites]

posted by ghharr at 11:02 AM on September 11

I always felt bad for how Terry got caught up by channer trolls who sought to manipulate him through his mental illness. They caused him and his family a lot of strife. RIP Terry, sorry people did that to you.
posted by constantinescharity at 11:12 AM on September 11 [7 favorites]

posted by slater at 11:35 AM on September 11

Outsider art doesn't mean there's not demonstrated skill, only that their works were made outside of the mainstream culture, and often coming from a lived experience outside of that culture. From that definition, TempleOS feels like a good example. I don't know that it's a perfect mapping of concept but I think it captures the idea.
posted by Typhoon Jim at 11:38 AM on September 11 [8 favorites]

this has got me real sad.
posted by nikaspark at 11:44 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]

posted by Joe in Australia at 12:37 PM on September 11

posted by avapoet at 1:51 PM on September 11

I am sad for Terry, and his friends and family, and a culture that that doesn't take care of our own. Here's hoping he finds his version of the superuser happily ever after.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 1:58 PM on September 11

posted by JamesD at 2:22 PM on September 11


I was just thinking of him this morning, in a kind of “at least we'll always have Terry & TempleOS” kind of a way.
posted by scruss at 2:41 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]

The "previousliest" link in the OP includes participation from Terry: There was a period when he was responding to any discussions of LoseThos anywhere on the internet, and that included Metafilter.

It looks like his old website losethos.com is now SEO spam for shonajoy.com.au.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 3:34 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]

posted by JoeXIII007 at 3:39 PM on September 11

posted by chinesefood at 3:49 PM on September 11

. 🙏
posted by Quackles at 4:16 PM on September 11

posted by But tomorrow is another day... at 5:38 PM on September 11


There's been quite a bit of discussion of TempleOS at lobste.rs as well, for background.
posted by nickzoic at 5:58 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]

Wow that lobsters link to someone porting programs to TempleOS is amazing. I had no idea that Davis had written his own JIT compiled language to go with his operating system.
posted by Nelson at 7:07 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]

posted by No-sword at 9:38 PM on September 11

posted by Ickster at 9:58 PM on September 11

posted by riverlife at 10:01 PM on September 11

posted by filtergik at 4:04 AM on September 12

Creator of TempleOS and noted racist.
posted by yonega at 9:49 AM on September 12

No, Terry Davis was not a "noted racist". There are people who go around giving speeches, building web sites, and organizing demonstrations to promote racism - those people
are the noted racists. As far as I know, Terry Davis had no connection to that world, and those people do not claim Davis as an ally. Davis sometimes made racist remarks. I am not an expert on schizophrenia but I expect there is a medical explanation for those, they were like the other self-defeating behaviors he was apparently unable to control. Davis' accomplishment, for which he is deservedly noted, was to create TempleOS. As far as I know, there is no racist content in it.
posted by JonJacky at 9:31 PM on September 12 [8 favorites]

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