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Jef Raskin

Spider's Online Diary

28 February, 2005--RIP: Jef Raskin--the REAL Mac daddy

© 2005 by Spider Robinson; all rights reserved.

Raise your glasses, please.

One of the Great Ones has left the party, peacefully in his sleep. Jef Raskin, creator of the Macintosh and pioneer of software design, is dead of pancreatic cancer--diagnosed only weeks ago, just before he learned he'd won a multimillion-dollar grant for his amazing Raskin Center for Humane Interfaces (a concept he pioneered, God bless him). Details below.

The story of how we met is told, more than once I believe, in my current nonfiction book THE CRAZY YEARS. I am privileged to have known him, honoured to have been his friend, even if only electronically. He gave me crucial help with more than one novel, including one I'm writing now.

When he was diagnosed, he wrote me, "At least I have lived to see the surface of Titan."

He had a mind so acute, it made you smarter to talk to him, even if nothing important was said. In our last e-mail exchange, we somehow got on the silly subject of whether, when Lord Buckley told his famous anecdote about Jonah and the Whale, that was Jonah or Buckley there in the whale. I wrote,

"Too metaphysical for me. It was, after all, a Jonah who existed only in Buckley's brain, as did the whale. I could argue either position all night. I think we just have to open Shrödinger's Whale and see."

And the last words he ever sent me were:

"I didn't know whales ate cats. Perhaps they just like to be in on the krill."

Save me a seat near you in the Lifehouse, Jef.



Raskin Family Press Statement, February 27, 2005

Pacifica, CA February 27, 2005--Jef Raskin, a mathematician, orchestral soloist and composer, professor, bicycle racer, model airplane designer, and pioneer in the field of human-computer interactions, died peacefully on February 26th, 2005 surrounded by his family and loved ones. He had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Jef created the Macintosh Computer as employee number 31 at Apple in the early 1980s, revolutionizing computer interface design. Jef established many methods now taken for granted by computer users, such as "click and drag." He named the Macintosh project after his favorite variety of apple, the McIntosh (modifying the spelling for copyright purposes). Jef strongly believed that computers should make tasks easy for people, not the other way around.

Jef viewed good design as a moral duty, holding interface designers to the same ethical standards as surgeons. Alluding to Isaac Asimov's first law of robotics, one of Jef's mantras was that "any system shall not harm your content or, through inaction, allow your content to come to harm." He left Apple in 1982 to found Information Appliance Inc., where he created the Canon Cat in pursuit of his vision that a computer should be an easy-to-use tool. After a decade studying cognitive psychology, he established a scientific basis for the design of man-machine interfaces, bringing interface design out of the mystic realm of computer gurus.

In his acclaimed 2000 book The Humane Interface, Jef coined the term and founded the field of cognetics, "the ergonomics of the mind," transforming interface design into an engineering discipline with a rigorous theoretical framework. His book, translated into more than nine languages, has become the standard text for more than 100 computing courses around the world.

Building on this work, Jef created the Raskin Center for Humane Interfaces (RCHI), which will soon release a preview of Archy, a culmination and exemplar of his design principles. Archy redesigns the basic building blocks of computing to demonstrate an entirely new paradigm for computer use. RCHI will continue under the technical leadership of Jef's son, Aza Raskin.

Jef's life and work are the subject of a documentary in progress, which will continue to gather information and interviews from people who knew him. More information is available at Jef is survived by his wife of 23 years, Linda Blum; his children, Aza, Aviva, and Aenea; and his children in all but name, Jenna and Rebecca. A memorial service will be announced at a later date.

The Raskin Center for Humane Interfaces


Bob Atkinson, consulting wizard and lefthanded guitarist, is the man who not only persuaded me to buy my first Macintosh, a 512k or "Fat" Mac, back in 1984, but somehow negotiated a steep discount for me in return for a Celebrity Quote. (I supplied one, but for some reason it was never used: "Macintosh: it's NOT user-friendly. It's a user-SLUT.") Receiving the above news, Bob just wrote:

Hi Spider;

Indeed; one of the Great Ones has checked out and will be missed by many. Hundreds of millions around the world -- Mac and Windows users who all benefit from the technology he helped create ? will use his work for decades yet to come. We're still using his ideas from the late 1970's (dovetailing with those of XEROX PARC alumni Alan Kay and Doug Engelbart), and I expect that the next generation of garage computer entrepreneurs will look to his last research for the next Insanely Great computer interface.

I've read ( I think) almost every book ever written on the history of Apple and the Mac, and my current one is the new book by Mac software genius Andy Hertzfield (Revolution in the Valley, O'Reilly, December, 2004, 0-596-00719-1). It talks about the crucial early days of the Mac and Lisa projects (1978 through the 1983 launch of Lisa and the 1984 launch of the Mac). Jef was the first at Apple to push them toward a simpler and graphical user interface, taking them to PARC to see what his buddies there had up their sleeve with the Xerox Alto and Star. Jef was the creator and leader of the Mac project at Apple until their dilution of his original ideas of a 'low-cost ($500 US) computer for everyone' led him to leave the team in the Summer of 1981. His signature, along with that of the other original Mac team members, remained on the inside of the case of every Mac produced until 1990. Jef, along with younger team-members Burrell Smith & Rod Holt (hardware) and Andy Hertzfield, Bill Atkinson, Bruce Horn and Bud Tribble (software) were the true fathers of the Mac, and, by extension (and blatant plagiarism), Windows. Steve Jobs was just along for the ride.

Jef will be missed, and it will be an incredible who's who of the world of computing at his funeral ... they ALL owe him a lot.

- Bob A.