If you know me in the real world, you know my father in law was famous at one time. Or maybe you don’t know. Well, my father in law—I called him Dad, since my own father died in 1975–was Jack Tramiel, and he was a man who had incredible success in business, and changed the world through his Commodore products–inexpensive calculators and computers for everyone.
Then, at the pinnacle of Commodore’s success, he walked away from that business in January of 1984, started a company called “Tramel Technologies Limited,” with ‘Tramiel’ spelled without the “i” so people would say “Truh-MELL” instead of “Truh-MEEL” (didn’t work—people pronounced it “trammel”) then bought a division of Atari–the division that made home game machines and computers–from Warner Communications.
Atari Corporation (not Atari Games–that was the arcade division, they always made money) had a not-bad run as a public company for a few years. That company ceased to exist in 1996, and Jack retired into a quiet life of advocacy for Holocaust survivors, anonymous (mostly) philanthropy, family, and a struggle with a bad heart. There was a valve replacement, there were angioplasties, there was a pacemaker and defibrillator, and so many emergency trips to the hospital that Jack became friends with the ambulance drivers in his area.
He passed away on a Sunday afternoon one week ago, at Stanford hospital, with his family around him.
By midnight someone had tried to change Jack’s Wikipedia page TWICE to say he was dead, and my husband, a true geek, had received an email request for confirmation of the status change. He confirmed his father’s change of status from living to dead.
The phone rang in my house Monday morning, when Jack’s sons were at the funeral home making arrangements.
That was a blogger for Forbes who looked me up in the White Pages. We chatted, and I confirmed the change of status. He also confirmed the place of death and the pronunciation of his last name.
In the following days, many journalists called, and Jack’s sons answered their questions. My husband said “If they care enough to call to check their facts, they deserve an answer.”
The Washington Post called.
The San Jose Mercury News called.
The LA Times called.
The Wall Street Journal called.
The New York Times called.
Email and Facebook contact was made with Reuters, the IDG group, and the Daily Telegraph from England.
Every one got the facts straight, except for the NY Times, that got the pronunciation of “Tramiel” wrong, saying it was “Truh-MEEL,” when it is really “Truh-MELL,” to rhyme with “done well,” or “death knell.”
I sent the NY Times an email pointing out the error, and while I did not see a correction in the appropriate section, subsequent reprints did not have the sentence with “Truh-MEEL.” It’s a natural mistake. In English, words that end in “iel” ( e.g. glockenspiel) are pronounced EEL, not ELL.
After reading that error, I set up a Google alert to see how many more the press turned out. I looked at most of the articles that Google highlighted. No one else that I saw repeated the “Truh-MEEL” mistake.
Several media outlets and blogs called him “Jacek Tramielski.” I can only speculate that people assume that if someone is foreign born, they had an ‘original’ name. The researcher from the Daily Telegraph in the UK who contacted me on Facebook asked me that.
I don’t know if things are as simple as an ‘original name’ for someone born in Europe before WWII. My father, for instance was known as Adler, Adler Hershi, Samuel, Herman, and Harry Adler in business, but when I found his birth certificate, it was Samuel Armin. Armin? I had never heard that.
Well, whatever. I thought something like that might be the case with Jack, but we don’t know what his birth certificate says.
I kind of hoped one of the journalists would dig the birth certificate up, but as famous as Jack is, he is no Barack Obama. No one is looking for his long form birth certificate.
One blogger, in a rather bitter entry, said something nasty about the fact that Jack’s first name is a bit mysterious. Because bloggers live and die on page views, I’m not mentioning him. At all. Let him stew in his own bitterness. I know lots of Yiddish curses I’m thinking of….
Here is what I know of Jack’s name: His wife and Polish friends called him Idek, his kids called him Dad, his Hebrew name was Yehuda, his last name changed from Trzmiel to Tramiel in 1948 or so.
I liked it so much, I’m putting it in AGAIN:
I read it out loud to the family at dinner–we sat and ate together a LOT this week, which was the only nice part of sitting shiva. You can visit Robert X. Cringely’s blog all you want. Twice.
I like him.