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Rest in peace, Dean Allen

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2018

I heard a couple of days ago that Dean Allen died last weekend. His friend Om Malik has a fine remembrance of him here.

Who was Dean? There are so many ways to answer that question. You could call him a text designer, who loved the web and wanted to make it beautiful, long before others thought of making typography an essential part of the online reading experience. You could call him a Canadian, even though he spent a large part of his life in Avignon, South of France, with his partner. A writer whose prose could make your soul ache who stopped writing, because, it didn’t matter. Or you could think of him as like an old-fashioned: sweet, bitter and strong, who left you intoxicated because of his friendship.

Dean was a web person…someone who could do all of the things necessary to make a website — design, write, code — and damn him, he did them all really well. I got to know him through a pair of sites he built, Textism and Cardigan. His writing was clever and pithy and engaging and you wanted to hate him but couldn’t because he was the nicest guy, the sort of person who would invite you to stay at his house even if you’d never even met him before. He also built Favrd, which was a direct inspiration for Stellar.

Weirdly, or maybe not, my two biggest memories of Dean involve food. One of my favorite little pieces of writing by him (or anyone else for that matter), is How to Cook Soup:

First, you need some water. Fuse two hydrogen with one oxygen and repeat until you have enough. While the water is heating, raise some cattle. Pay a man with grim eyes to do the slaughtering, preferably while you are away. Roast the bones, then add to the water. Go away again. Come back once in awhile to skim. When the bones begin to float, lash together into booms and tow up the coast. Reduce. Keep reducing. When you think you have reduced enough, reduce some more. Raise some barley. When the broth coats the back of a spoon and light cannot escape it, you are nearly there. Pause to mop your brow as you harvest the barley. Search in vain for a cloud in the sky. Soak the barley overnight (you will need more water here), then add to the broth. When, out of the blue, you remember the first person you truly loved, the soup is ready. Serve.

In 2002, when Meg and I were staying in France for a month between moves, Dean and his partner invited us down to their house for a couple of days. Like I said, we’d never actually met and he collected us at the train station all the same. We ate like kings while we were there, but the thing I remember most (aside from their house being in the middle of a beautiful vineyard in Avignon) is after lunch one day, he just left the pot with the leftover soup on the stove. (Soup, again! No barley though.) “Oh, you forgot to put the soup away. Do you think it’s still good?” we said. Dean just shrugged and replied gently, so as not imply we were idiot germaphobic Americans for always putting any leftover food into the fridge immediately, that you don’t really need to refrigerate stuff like that, not if you’re going to reheat it and finish it in a day or two. Even now, whenever I have stovetop leftovers, I always just leave them out and think of Dean whenever I do.

I hope you find some peace, my friend.

Update: John Gruber wrote a nice piece about Dean on Daring Fireball. And a few food microbiology experts in my inbox would like you to know that you should not leave your soup out unrefrigerated. I texted this to John last night, and he replied, “Dean would’ve loved that.”

Update: Dean’s obituary in The Globe and Mail.

Renaissance man, trailblazer and autodidact extraordinaire, Dean was a person of dazzling wit, charm and erudition.

Graphic designer, typographer, teacher, web pilgrim, critic, author, Weimaraner tamer, song and dance man, chef… he brought titanic intelligence, insight and humour to everything he did. And whatever room he was in, he was the weather.

He would have been appalled at the poor layout and typography of that page. (thx, gail)