alberto gaitan


I was terribly sorry to read that Alberto had passed. Here is a lovely remembrance by his friend Gareth Branwyn. I certainly won’t do better than that, but I’ll at least add my own memory of the man.

I met Alberto at Dorkbot DC, a now-defunct hardware hacking meetup. In those days I was an avid reader of MAKE and Hackaday, and I think I’d gotten a t-shirt from Dorkbot Austin at SXSWi. I sought out the DC club when I got back from that trip, and from there found HacDC and a few other nascent hardware hacking circles. Here’s a nice pic from those days; here’s a writeup of the time I gave a talk (and blogged!) about a very amateurish DD-WRT project (I’ve forgotten the details of the project, but I remember the night: I’m still waiting for a Jack Parsons prestige TV series).

Alberto was alternately an emcee and eminence grise for these meetups, and such a warm person that even prickly nerds like myself couldn’t help finding ourselves befriended.

He knew his stuff, but his weren’t always the deepest technical chops in the room. But that’s kind of why I developed such deep respect for him. Unlike most of us, he had learned and accepted that that stuff isn’t interesting in its own right. He knew he could figure it out when he needed to, through some combination of innate cleverness and the charm to get experts talking.

And there was something Alberto could do that the rest of us couldn’t: art. He could combine ideas and capabilities in ways that stirred something in a viewer. I had pretension and technical ability, but a part of me knew I was incapable of much beyond making a gadget blink or beep and then slapping a frame on it. Alberto was proof that some people, at least, could figure out the riddle. And here he was sitting in a post-meetup bar with me, holding court and treating me like a dear friend.

Well, I got old. I stopped going to meetups. Looking at my email, I last chatted with Alberto in 2020. His hands had gotten so bad that he couldn’t solder very well, and he asked a listserv we were both on for help fixing a joint he’d messed up on a microcontroller. It was early pandemic days, so I said I couldn’t come by to do the desoldering but offered to mail him a replacement if the parts I had met his needs. They didn’t, but I was treated to some Alberto charm in the process. Alas, a one-sided deal.

He emailed me again last year about a Mapbox customer getting his address wrong, and I’m ashamed to see I didn’t get around to replying. It felt bad to start mentally composing a preamble apologizing for the late reply as I scanned the page of search results just now. He’s gone.

Alberto Gaitan. One worth remembering.

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Tom Lee
By Tom Lee