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Shocking news about Mike Homer, one of Silicon Valley's most aggressive and brilliant executives. The Apple and Netscape veteran, a tech-industry fixture for two decades, has been diagnosed with a rare brain condition. Homer has been incredibly unlucky: Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease affects just one in a million people each year. The one bit of good news: UCSF, where Homer is being treated, is the leading center for research into the disorder; and the he has a host of influential friends, such as angel investor Ron Conway, who are marshaling Silicon Valley support for research into CJD at the Sheraton, Palo Alto, on June 14th.

Mike Homer first came to notice as Apple Computer's marketing wunderkind, in the 1980s, before being bloodied by Go Computing, a pioneer of tablet computing that was before its time. As one of the top executives at Netscape, Homer led the browser company's efforts to establish itself as an internet portal. His most recent venture was Kontiki, a content distribution system now owned by Verisign. The hard-charging exec has spent more time recently as an investor in, or advisor to, companies such as Opsware, Tellme, Palm and Tivo. In short, Homer has touched pretty much every major development in the PC industry over the last two decades.

But here's what endears him most to us. Many Silicon Valley figures spend so much time burnishing their public image that it's a wonder they do any work. Homer always stayed true to his unpretentious blue-collar origins. In an interview with Wired magazine, he said:

"I'm not like what I think we have a lot of in Silicon Valley - a lot of people running around networking and talking about the universe and that sort of thing... I'm a wiseass by nature. People that don't know me probably don't see that that much. I'm laughing all day long - mostly at myself. I'm totally into self-deprecating humor. Our industry people take this stuff so seriously, and really, it's only just computers. It's not that big a deal!"