Remembering Mark Weiser

 

The Forum gives visitors the chance to express their thoughts and share memories about Mark Weiser's career, ideas, and life. By sharing your stories about him, you help us better remember Mark's place in the Silicon Valley community, and in the history of computers and information technology.

 

This page is devoted to remembering Mark as a friend, musician, and human. Other pages are devoted to his ideas on ubiquitous computing, and his career and professional life.

 

See also the biography of Mark Weiser.

"There are few words that can express the deep sense of loss
we all feel for the passing away of Mark Weiser. Mark has
been an intellectual and a spiritual force for many of us.


His love for life, his deep questioning, his constant
inventiveness and his willingness to engage us in his
wonderful flights of imagination will be missed."

--John Seely Brown

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Ann Weiser Cornell:

When I first met Mark he was three days old and I had just gotten back from staying with my grandmother while he was being born. He looked small and red and very unpromising. What can you say when your baby brother dies? I am incredibly proud of him and his life. In my last conversation with him, he told me that this was the "best time" in his life "to get a diagnosis of dying," because he had so many loving friends around him. Hearing that just made me sadder--it was just like him to say that! He is (I don't like to say "was") a profoundly brilliant man, sensitive and compassionate, playful and thoughtful. May his work be carried forward and spread to touch all our lives with his gentleness.


Ken Pier:

I have known Mark since he came to PARC, and for the past two or three years I have been Mark's nearly-next-door neighbor at PARC. I say nearly, because his administrative assistant, Debbie Roose, occupies the "half office" between us. I have occasionally kidded Debbie by informing her that the facilities people would be moving our common wall to enlarge my office and shrink hers. It never happened. I want to acknowledge the important role that Debbie accepted during Mark's last days, particularly her gracious endurance of the stress that her job suddenly thrust on her as hundreds of people made demands for news and comfort.

I mostly knew Mark as a compassionate friend, and not as the adventurer that some have described. We talked mostly about the adventure of having family instead of about computing, music, or cars. One day, nearly ten years ago, I went outside on the PARC terrace while thinking about an important family decision. Mark saw me out there- he may have thought it was unusual, since I am sort of an indoor person. He came out, and we talked. At the end of our talk, he asked if I would like a hug. I said I would, and as we were hugging there on the PARC terrace one of our younger colleagues came around the corner and saw us. He gave us what, to this day, remains one of the strangest looks I have ever witnessed. I have always remembered Mark that way.

Mark was a true presence among us. I realized, after he was gone, that each day as I trudged to my office I would look and see if Mark was in. Even if we were not to have a meeting or even a conversation, somehow it was a better day if Mark was there. Today, particularly as I pass his empty office with the obituaries and tributes hanging on the door, I truly miss Mark.


Steven Rubin:

Mark was the drummer in our band Severe Tire Damage, and he was truly devoted to the music and the fun. Even on days when he was traveling all over the world, he made sure that his flight arrived in time for band rehearsal. He indulged in every musical toy imaginable, from cowbells to full computer workstations, and the band was always amused by his experiments. Mark encouraged all of us to reach for new heights (depths?) of garage-band intensity, and we will miss him very much.


Tom Newman:

Mark was a friend since college. I never heard him say anything remotely unkind. He was generous, modest and caring, with this Zen-like calm. He taught me many things, but most of all he showed me, by his way of being, how to be a better person. It seems to me he did this to people and to ideas, finding ways they could improve. He had a lasting influence on my life, and I will always be grateful.


Gordon Marsh:

Mark and I were undergraduates in 1970 at New College in Sarasota, where one day we saw two people playing a board game we had never seen before. It was Go, and the large board, black and white stones and intricate visual patterns fascinated both of us. We had them teach us the rules and we started to play each other. We played hundreds of games over a few months. We compared the game, and the non-linear style of thinking it required, to chess. I haven't seen Mark since 1973, but I have never forgotten what a wonderful friend he was. He was cheerful, gentle, kind and so inventive. Talking to him was always a delight. I am very sad.


John Wasko:

I, like Tom and Gordon, met Mark at New College in Sarasota. I was sad when I heard of his passing. I was a little surprised that the grief I felt was so palpable since our paths crossed only a few times over the years. I also somehow felt reassured in the midst of the sad news. The greater sadness would be if we didn't meet, didn't have the chance to spend some time together, and there was no feeling of sorrow. Martin Buber wrote, "All real life is meeting."--Well he got half of it right. So, what would Martin Heidegger have said, Mark?

Mark: I remember you, Donna, and I running for the sheer delight of it, through deep, freshly fallen snow, one cold, clear, sunny day in Ann Arbor. I enjoyed your curiosity, your sense of humor, and your whimsical laugh. I enjoyed your excitement and passion for Jimi Hendrix's music. I marveled at your facility for taking obtuse, over-wrought, pretentious philosophical writings, and rendering them with simplicity and elegance into understandable English ("What this guy was trying to say was...").

I'm glad we had a chance to see each other again, if only briefly, at later points down the road. I'm glad I had the chance to share a little time, a meal, and conversation with you, Vicky, and your daughters.

Thanks.
God bless.
John


James Landay:

I was unsure of which category to put these comments into since Mark made an impression on me in several different ways. That I think is a tribute to what a worthy person he was.

I first met Mark when I was a summer intern at PARC in 1992. His vision for ubiquitous computing was a theme that took hold of many of the researchers and interns there at the time. This vision greatly enhanced my outlook of the future of computing and the importance of a radically different style of human-computer interaction.

I had repeated encounters with Mark since PARC at conferences, retreats, and social events. Mark was one who enjoyed all aspects of life. For example, I remember a beautiful hike on the trails above Tahoe one year at a research retreat and stimulating conversations over dinner or a beer in San Francisco. Mark was someone you would go out of your way to chat with.

I always felt that Mark was one of the few computer scientists who simply seemed "to get it." The big picture of computing, that is. He had the breadth necessary to envision the underlying infrastructure that would be required as well as how the resulting revolution in its use would change the way we live, work, and play. On a personal level Mark was always full of encouragement and advice on how to carry out a research career. He was someone a young researcher could trust.

My last contact with Mark was in March when he phoned me to ask if I could fill in for him on a panel at a conference here at Berkeley. I said I would. He had just gotten back some bad test results and I guess he already knew what lay ahead of him. I wish I had known that would be the last time I would speak to him. Mark Weiser was one of the most influential people in my research career and his presence will be sorely missed in the research community and among all the friends he made along the way.


Laurence Hunt:

Mark and his family, particularly his father, taught me, as Helen Keller perhaps best described it, that life is a daring adventure or nothing. Mark's own twist on that was that life is a game to be played--not to win--but simply to enjoy. Mark and I played together from early childhood. He never brought anybody down, and he helped everyone to have a good time. I last saw him in Toronto ten years ago, and he was having more fun than ever. At this time, I don't envision Mark regretting his own death--as that too is part of the adventure. However, I do miss him greatly. He slipped away so suddenly, I am not sure that I yet believe he is no longer there in Palo Alto, continuing the great adventure. As a child, I thought of him more as a brother or cousin than as a friend. That feeling has never changed.


Ron Reisman:

Ubiquity was Mark's romantic ideal, a goal that would draw the world forward. His optimism and realistic approach to prototype development provided the basis of hours of lighthearted and nlightening conversation. I'll miss him.


Bettie A. Steiger:

Mark brought a vision and understanding of the way computing and computers could and should impact individuals at work and at home that created a positive path for invention. He ceaselessly championed that vision and shared his understanding with all who were privileged to know him. Mark was ever a support to anyone who tried to bring technology to fruition in the market and he added greatly to my own experience at PARC, both as a colleague and a friend. "To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die" He lives on in many hearts.


Diana Kade:

Mark was one of the most entertaining, affable and good-humored gentleman we were fortunate to have known. The Forum he gave was very exciting...his Severe Tire Damage Band put him "one-up" in the rock annals. A life well-lived-- Mark will always be with us!


Richard Kade:

This is by way of afterthought to what my wife e-mailed yesterday at the PARC Memorial service. While it is not profound, I will always recall a chance encounter with Mark about a month after Doug Hofstadter gave a presentation on human and machine translation in 1997.

Mark was picking up some documents from one of the community printers down the hall from his office when I finally remembered to ask, in reference to Severe Tire Damage, when he wrote a song did the words come first or the music? He said that for him, personally, it depended. There was neither clear rhyme nor reason to the process.

He then asked what I thought should be the pattern. I told him of Cole Porter saying that his ran about 50/50 and Stephen Sondheim likening the process to completing a crossword puzzle. Mark said he was most appreciative of my putting him on to "Capriccio" the final opera of Richard Strauss which dealt entirely with this question and, after ~2 hrs, leaves it with a shrug of the shoulders and three soft horn calls.


Other comments can be found on pages devoted to Mark's ideas on ubiquitous computing, and his career and professional life.

Date: Created 29 April 1999;