John Markoff on Larry Tesler

John Markoff, writing for The New York Times:

It was Mr. Tesler who gave Mr. Jobs the celebrated demonstration of the Xerox Alto computer and the Smalltalk software system that would come to influence the design of Apple’s Lisa personal computer and then its Macintosh.

Mr. Tesler left Xerox to work for Mr. Jobs at Apple in 1980.

“The questions the Apple people were asking totally blew me away,” Mr. Tesler was quoted as saying in a profile that appeared in IEEE Spectrum, the magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, in 2005. “They were the kind of questions Xerox executives should have been asking but didn’t.”

It’s simply impossible to even guess where we’d be today if not for Larry Tesler and his team’s work at PARC.

In addition to helping develop the Lisa and Macintosh, Mr. Tesler founded and ran Apple’s Advanced Technology Group, after which he led the design of the Newton hand-held computer, although that proved unsuccessful.

Unsuccessful in the marketplace, no doubt, but the Newton was in many ways a triumph in human-computer interaction that in at least a few ways, remains unmatched. I’m thinking of the concept of the “soup” for data, in particular.

The group also created much of the technology that would become the Wi-Fi wireless standard, and Mr. Tesler led an Apple joint venture with two other companies that created Acorn RISC Machine, a partnership intended to provide a microprocessor for the Newton.

Helped invent Wi-Fi and ARM, no big deal.

In 1960, while attending the Bronx High School of Science, Mr. Tesler developed a new method of generating prime numbers. He showed it to one of his teachers, who was impressed. As Mr. Tesler later recalled, he told the teacher that the method was a formula; the teacher responded, “No, it’s not really a formula, it’s an algorithm, and it can be implemented on a computer.”

“Where do you find a computer?” Mr. Tesler asked.

What a life. Just read the whole thing — too many accomplishments to quote them all here.

Thursday, 20 February 2020