Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: obituaries

Farewell to jeffreyp and Douglas Engelbart

This week we lost two people that are much on my mind. The first is Douglas Engelbart, one of the great visionaries in the history of the computer industry. You can read the New York Times obituary, but my favorite piece on Engelbart’s impact was by Bret Victor.

Engelbart was, of course, one of the fathers of the Silicon Valley as we know it today. As the obituary mentions, with regard to “The Mother of All Demos,” given by Engelbart in 1968:

The conference attendees were awe-struck. In one presentation, Dr. Engelbart demonstrated the power and the potential of the computer in the information age. The technology would eventually be refined at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center and at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Apple and Microsoft would transform it for commercial use in the 1980s and change the course of modern life.

This week we also lost Jeffrey McManus, who in many ways epitomized the Silicon Valley to me, in a good way.

He passed away in his sleep at age 46. He joins the list of people I knew online for what seems like forever and never got the chance to meet in person, much to my regret. I always knew him as jeffreyp — that was his login on The Well. He was always the life of the online party, and I get the sense that he was the life of the party in the real world as well.

I was an interested spectator as he married and created a family with his wife Carole, progressed through his career, and leveled up his half-elf ranger Cocteaustin in Everquest.

Jeffrey was a huge beneficiary of the world Engelbart helped to create, and he did his part to build on Engelbart’s work. He wrote computer books, worked on developer platforms for companies like Ebay and Yahoo, and wound up founding CodeLessons, an online education company dedicated to teaching people to program. He’s gone way, way too soon.

I feel especially reminded this week to focus on the things that really matter.

Farewell and thank you to Jack Tramiel

Today we learned that Jack Tramiel, the founder of Commodore, died at age 84.

The first computer I owned was a Commodore 64. It was the best Christmas present I ever received. I still remember typing in program listings from computer magazines by hand just so that I could see them run. The next summer I saved all the money I made from mowing lawns to buy a Commodore 1541 floppy disk drive so that I could copy games. If Commodore hadn’t offered an affordable alternative to the Apple II at the time, I probably wouldn’t have had a computer at all.

I’m very grateful to Commodore and Jack Tramiel.

Michael S. Hart, RIP

Michael S. Hart, the inventor of the electronic book and the founder of Project Gutenberg, died this week. Project Gutenberg has his (public domain) obituary. Hart was born in 1947. The last published work to pass into the public domain was published in 1923 and it seems probable that copyright terms will be extended indefinitely such that no published works will enter the public domain again.

Update: Nat Torkington has posted a nice remembrance.

Robert Morris, RIP

Computer security pioneer and original Unix hacker Robert Morris has passed away at age 78. My favorite part of his obituary is the first sentence:

Robert Morris, a cryptographer who helped developed the Unix computer operating system, which controls an increasing number of the world’s computers and touches almost every aspect of modern life, died on Sunday in Lebanon, N.H.

It’s amazing and delightful to think that after all of these years that no operating system has surpassed Unix as a network server. It seems like a long time ago now, but it was widely believed that eventually Windows NT would kill off Unix. I’m glad that didn’t happen.

Most people recognize his name thanks to his son’s worm that essentially crashed the Internet back in 1988:

As chief scientist of the National Security Agency’s National Computer Security Center, Mr. Morris gained unwanted national attention in 1988 after his son, Robert Tappan Morris, a graduate student in computer science at Cornell University, wrote a computer worm — a software program — that was able to propel itself through the Internet, then a brand-new entity.

Links for September 8

  • New York Times: Robert Spinrad, a Pioneer in Computing, Dies at 77. Former director of Xerox PARC — which was maybe the most concentrated center of innovation in the history of computing.
  • Cash4Gold offers to pay its critics for their silence. If you don’t watch TV, Cash4Gold is a company that offers to buy gold from people at, as it turns out, far less than the prevailing market rate.
  • Here are a couple of looks at the current unemployment picture. Our current level of unemployment looks really grim when you fit it to the pace of recovery from recent recessions. Oh, and in total, about 200,000 fewer people have jobs now than had jobs ten years ago. It’s worth remembering that the economy must add roughly 150,000 jobs a month to keep pace with population growth.
  • James Surowiecki: Inflated Fears. Now’s not the time to obsess over inflation.

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