I was shocked to hear of Mark's passing. Mark
and I interacted only a few times per year over the last 10 years
or so, but I always found myself resonating with his ideas, which
continue to have a profound influence on me in my pursuit of
ubiquitous computing at Sun Microsystems in the Java world. Of
course, it was also easy to resonate with his drum playing in
Severe Tire Damage, but that was a much more physical and visceral
"resonating" :-) I already miss him a lot. We needed
him in this valley. I feel privileged to have shared time and
ideas with him.
I first met Mark in about 1984, whilst working
for Xerox, deploying "our stuff" to various schools
around the world, as part of a university grant program. Mark's
lab at the University of Maryland was one of the recipients.
During my days on-site at Maryland, and later
at UGP conferences in Leesburg, Mark and I talked briefly about
some of the philosophy involved in the "digital revolution",
but really only in passing - I was just a grunt, deploying systems
and running LISP classes, who happened to know some philosophy
- which I later came to realize was his main hot button.
Five years later I met him at PARC in his
new role, whilst I was working for EuroPARC in Cambridge, as
a research support programmer ("they think it up, we make
it work"). He not only remembered my name, he also picked
up our conversation where we had left off 5 years ago.
I cannot express the sense of loss I now feel.
Mark's ideas and his personality infected me at an early age,
and I've been quietly working towards the same goals ever since
- calm, ubiquitous computing.
A decade ago I left the womb, so to speak,
and quit Xerox. I now live and work in Huntsville AL, where I'm
the Internet Product Manager for Intergraph Computer Systems,
an Intel/NT OEM....
Mark's dream is coming true. I just wish he
could have been here to see it. I'll miss his guiding voice,
and his power to convince people of what is just plain "right".
Sometimes the right person in the right position
can do a little to ignite a lot. In 1993 Mark hosted a workshop
on "The Next Phase of Ubiquitous Computing." Mark opened
the forum to random PARC researchers, but only if they submitted
an adequate position paper to contribute to the discussion, showing
that they had done some thinking about the issues. This condition
prompted me to think about ubiquitous computer vision; my position
paper was on the PVA---the Personal Visual Assistant. This device
has yet to be built, but it is the inspiration behind a piece
of ubiquitous computing technology that I have devoted several
years to since. I am grateful that Mark Weiser remained always
one of the strongest supporters and enablers for the ZombieBoard Whiteboard Scanner system now
deployed in the PARC conference rooms he graced with his presence.
I was deeply impressed, at one CHI conference--
the only occasion when I had the chance to listen to Mark Weiser--
by the way he appeared on stage and acted as a human being with
a great message. Nothing artificial, all convincing. There has
been no semester since then that I did not tell my students at
the University of Bremen about Mark Weiser.... It must have been
the day of his death, I suppose, that in one of my current courses
I talked about him. Is there anything better to be said about
a scientist and researcher than that his word gets spread internationally?
I didn't know who Mark Weiser was until I
read the notice of his passing. And yet his ideas about the relationships
between people and smart things have shaped a lot of the work
I've done, as an analyst in the image peripheral industry, then
working on long-term trends in communication and commerce.
There's a powerful myth in the technology
industry about how technology transforms people. According to
this mechanistic vision, we adapt to our tools. The truth, instead,
as Mark Weiser saw it, is an ongoing conversation and mutual
adaptation between us and our tools. I believe and hope that
the influence of Mark Weiser's humanistic vision will increase
the chances that our new tools will serve:
as a blessing and not a curse,
toward life and not toward death."
I never had the chance to meet Mark Weiser
in person, but his ideas inspired me to join the computer industry
back in the early nineties (after reading John Seeley Brown's
paper in the Harvard Business Review). The whole notion
of computers that blend into the background is still just a notion,
but one desperately worth pursuing. I am hopeful that we, as
an industry, are finally making the first real steps on the path
Mark laid out.
Other comments can be found on pages devoted to Mark's career and professional activities,
and his life.