Dan Weinreb, Boston Computer Geek, Community Figure, Dies of Cancer

9/7/12Follow @bbuderi

We at Xconomy were extremely sad to learn that Dan Weinreb, well-known in Boston’s innovation scene as a computer geek, entrepreneur, prolific commentator on technology, and all around great guy, passed away earlier today after a long battle with cancer. Dan was also an angel investor in Xconomy, and always had great feedback and support to offer. He will be sorely, sorely missed.

Dan was in his early to mid-50s.

Dan was a graduate of MIT (he got his bachelor’s degree in 1979) and had a long history in computer and software circles. According to his Wikipedia entry, he worked first for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and later co-founded software makers Symbolics and Object Design, maker of an object-oriented database management system, which was sold to Progress Software.

Most recently, Dan worked for ITA Software, which was bought by Google in 2010. In this Xconomy profile of ITA two years before Google came in, Wade Roush quoted from Dan’s blog post about his decision to take the job and work on an airline reservation system. As Wade wrote:

Dan Weinreb [is] a veteran software engineer who joined ITA in 2006 after a stint with BEA Systems. In a blog post from last December, about his decision to take the job, he admits he “didn’t have any a priori interest in the airline software field,” but says that he’s fascinated by how software can help real-world organizations process millions of transactions without error every day. In any case, Weinreb writes, his primary job criteria is “that I get to work directly with extremely good software engineers who work well together.”

The Polaris project fit the bill. For Air Canada, Weinreb says, he and his colleagues spend a lot of time working on “high availability: making the system stay up all the time, despite any kind of failure that we can reasonably anticipate. I have been focusing specifically on the problem that we call ‘hot upgrade’: how to install new versions of components of the system, while it’s running, without impacting latency. This is very challenging and a lot of fun.”

I got to know Dan shortly after Xconomy launched, when he began commenting, with unusual depth and insight, on our stories. He later joined as an investor, and we were honored to have him. Wade reports that Dan sent him more than 150 emails over the last few years, filled with insights. ”He was a big catalyst for innovation around town, the kind of guy who was always connecting other people,” Wade says.

When Wade was getting ready to move across the country to open Xconomy’s San Francisco bureau in 2010, Dan wrote to say that he’d crossed the country three times as part of convoys with friends, and he offered the following piece of friendly (pre-Internet) advice about finding good food along the way:

“When we drove across the country, we often just ate road food at chain restaurants. One day I put my foot down and said I wanted some good food. My plan, which worked was: (1) Find a downtown hotel, which will surely have a pay phone with a Yellow Pages; (2) Look up Restaurants, Chinese and pick the one whose ad has the least prominent mention of “exotic tropical drinks”. We ended up at a very nice Chinese restaurant in Indianapolis.”

[Editor's note: This paragraph added Sept. 7, 2012, at 5:35pm] Xconomy Boston and National IT editor Greg Huang remembers: “I will remember Dan’s earnest and constructive commentary on everything from airships to Amazon Web Services; his disdain for Moore’s “Law” (he said it’s descriptive, not predictive, and could stop working at any time); and his engineer’s insistence on giving people proper credit for their ideas and inventions. He was one of the good ones.”

James Geshwiler, managing director of CommonAngels, of which Dan was a member, says Dan had been sick with cancer for about a year. He and Chris Sheehan, also a CommonAngels managing director, visited Dan regularly through his illness at his home in Lexington. ”He was a super guy, very thoughtful and just always thoughtful and courteous to entrepreneurs,” says Geshwiler. “He was always extremely passionate and enthusiastic for databases, which were his love.”

Nilanjana Bhowmik, a partner at Longworth Venture Partners, worked with Dan at Object Design in the 1990s. “Brilliant mind, a colleague, and a friend,” is how she sums Dan up. “It’s such a loss to the community. He has a very broad network of friends, admirers, colleagues. New England has lost a very big contributor to the community.”

Dan was also an investor in Daily Grommet. Founder and CEO Jules Pieri said they met over beers and such at a networking group in Lexington and became good friends. She called him the “resident brain” at ITA, “somebody who dipped into projects, cracked problems.” She also tells of Dan’s fondness for notebooks (real notebooks, not notebook computers), of which he kept an extensive catalog. “He was like Mr. Technology, but he had this anachronistic habit of using physical notebooks” and a detailed system for indexing their contents, she says.

Dan is survived by his wife, Cheryl Moreau. They have a son in college.

All the Boston tech scene will really miss Dan.

 

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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  • Peter Bleyleben

    Met Dan a couple of years ago and worked with hom both inside and outside Common Angels on helping entrepreneurs with advice and also funding: One of the smartest, nicest and greatest person has passed on — What a loss all around and my deepest sympathy to all of his….

  • chrissheehan

    Dan was a truly wonderful person who cared very deeply about
    entrepreneurs. He was terrific to work
    with and will be sorely missed by the Boston tech community

  • Paul Birch

    Enjoyed my recent years of working with Dan, loved his passion, knowledge and enthusiasm in working with early stage companies. His expertise will be missed by many in the Boston tech community. RIP Dan, my thoughts are with your family. I will continue to miss your insight and thoughtful comments. Will remember many of your helpful contributions on portfolio companies. Your expertise will be hard to replace, you were so prescient on many things.

  • szr

    Worked with Dan a million years ago at Symbolics. Many, many changes since then. And 25 years later he noticed my name tag at an innovation event and re-introduced himself. Reconnected in Lexington over coffee; his stellar tecnical accomplishments in stark contrast to my eclectic but modest achievements. But that difference mattered not one whit: he was curious and interested in my trajectory, what he could learn from another ‘traveller’. I respected his enthusiasm and genuine interest in connecting with people outside of his circle.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maia.d.heymann Maia D. Heymann

    Bob, very nice job capturing how special Dan was. Very sad day for the community. We worked on a few investments together at CommonAngels. His genuine interest for learning new things was infectious, he knew a lot but never needed to show others how much, and he was always willing to help. I’m glad you mentioned his notebooks! I was always impressed by his copious note-taking skills and wondered what pearls of wisdom were to be found within those pages. Sad day to have to say good-bye to a great guy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bfiner1 Barb Finer

    Very sad passing. He left a big mark on the world, especially in NE Tech

  • Bill Ghormley

    This is incredibly sad — a great mind and life cut short — I met Dan in the 80′s when he was launching Symbolics — a warm, skilled, brilliant guy — our thoughts and prayers to his family and many friends — he will be deeply missed. Bill G.

  • Vinit Nijhawan

    OMG I was shocked to see this news. I had no idea Dan was ill and am instantly feeling a hole in my heart. Dan exemplified the “enlightened geek”. His first love was technology, particularly software technology. But he loved to understand markets and mercantilism for software and software enables products and services. I met him regularly at the Nantucket Conference and at CommonAngels events. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Apperian when we were getting it off the ground and that entusiasm rubbed off on his CommonAngel colleagues to invested over $1M. His sunny disposition and earnestness was an example that I will always cherish. May he rest in peace and zichro livracha.

    Vinit Nijhawan

  • Audrey

    He came to our house for a party just a few years ago and he came with several pounds of chicken salad and fresh bread from Whole Foods, exclaiming, “No one ever brings real food to a ‘bring an hors d’oeuvres’ party.” He was so thoughtful and generous. We will miss him very much

  • Bill Bither

    What a wonderful man and figure in the New England entrepreneurial scene. I remember first meeting Dan and having a dinner with him three or four years ago when he shared his story and provided great advice I always looked forward to seeing him when I made my way out to the events in the Boston area. You will be missed.

  • Jeff Del Papa

    At MIT 10 September 2012. A quarter peal of 1440 Kent Treble Bob Minor.

    Trebles – Elaine Hansen (conductor)
    3-4 – Andy Latto
    Tenors – Jeff Del Papa

    Rung to celebrate the life of Daniel L. Winereb.

    (for the majority who don’t know what any of this means, I suggest either Dorothy Sayers “The Nine Taylors” or http://www.nagcr.org – it sounded similar to this http://the-nerds.org/cambridgeminor.mp3 – same people and bells, slightly different pattern)

  • spratap

    I crossed paths with Dan many times over the past two decades and he was always courteous, helpful, inquisitive and humble. I particularly enjoyed his love of delving into difficult problems and sharing his thoughts openly, which made me feel like I could understand things that way he did.

    I will miss his intellect, his generosity and his warmth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paradoox Rick Kovalcik

    He will truly be missed. I’m sorry that I didn’t know that he was sick. My best to his family.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charlie-Berg/630064686 Charlie Berg

    I kinda knew Dan when he was at Symbolics, and I was a customer. I used to see him at Klezmer Conservatory Band gigs @ Ryles, when I was their drummer. Ran into him about a year ago, and he reminded me of this…as a joke I gave him a copy of our first self-released album..on vinyl.