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A Remembrance of Jef Raskin, by Daniel Kottke


Some memories of Jef --

I don’t remember exactly the first time I met Jef… when he arrived at Apple in 1978 I had just transitioned from production to engineering, and didn’t get out of the lab much… he was going to start up the publications group and was in a different part of the building… but I do remember the first time I went over to the publications group area, to find that cardboard walls and partitions made of Jef’s Bloxes had sprouted up all over. The Bloxes were interlocking 10” cardboard cubes he had designed and manufactured. Really cool!… and come to think of it, they’d no doubt be cheaper than Hermann Miller partitions. I wonder if they’re still available anywhere.

I think Jef’s first big project at Apple was the Apple-II Basic Manual which was a big success due to its friendly, humorous tone. The style and tone that Jef set for Apple’s publications would have been a very tangible contribution even if he hadn’t started the Mac project. And, although those of us in engineering liked to think we were driving the company, the pubs group led by Jef was definitely the coolest group to hang out with.

Jef’s remarkable facility with music as well as computers was evident early on. He had an amazing ability to improvise 2 and 3-part fugues at the piano. I remember him coming over to my house in Cupertino in 1979 probably and putting a Scientific American magazine up on the piano and ‘reading’ the text musically as improvised counterpoint… I just loved that! I hope someone will put together some CD’s of Jef’s music, if he hadn’t yet himself.

I think it was also in 1979 that Jef showed me his cool new keyboard in his office at Apple, it was a relatively tiny Casiotone electric piano, the first one with built-in speakers that was portable, and he used to play it on and off while working. And, before that, no doubt Jef had one of the first Alpha Syntauri Apple-II-based keyboard synthesizers.

I remember the first time Jef took me to see his Macintosh prototype, sitting on Marc LeBrun’s desk… Burrell Smith had built it and Marc was programming it. It was just a little wire-wrapped board maybe 6” x 8” driving a naked 7” diameter CRT tube. It was built using a 6809 processor, the same size physically as the 6502’s we used in the Apple-II and Apple-II, but it had far fewer chips than the Apple-II. Since I was working in the engineering lab, on the company’s next big product, the Apple-III, it was quite a surprise to see a brand new computer design suddenly already built and running there on Marc’s desk – one that had been created completely independent of Apple’s engineering staff as far as I could tell. Burrell, the hardware designer along with Jef, was working in tech support and ‘moonlighting’ for Jef more or less I guess. I don’t remember what software was running on the prototype but that was probably the first time I ever heard about a ‘bit-mapped’ display (instead of text characters being generated by hardware as in the Apple-II and III).

In late 1980 I guess Jef’s fledgling Mac group had moved to Suite B3 at 20863 Stevens Creek Blvd., the same space that had recently been vacated by the growing Lisa development group, and the same office suite that Apple had originally started in, in 1977. Burrell had put a sign on the door that said “Caution – contagious algorithm research area”. The first time I went over there to visit in Jan 1981, Jef promptly pulled out a big box of Nerf balls and we all had a brief but frenzied Nerfball melee… Jef, Joanna Hoffmann, Brian Howard, Burrell Smith, and maybe Andy Hertzfeld were there.

The Information Appliance machines he created didn’t have much commercial success but they were highly creative and well-thought-out. Jef’s basic concept was to do away with files and file names and use the entire memory of the computer as one big document – then use searching to get around to the part you want. By doing that one could put all the ‘OS’ code in ROM and not even have to boot the machine.

On a visit to Jef in Pacifica not too many years ago I was impressed by his notebooks filled with musical compositions, which I have yet to hear since we were short of time that day. I hope there are CDs of his music available somewhere before long, if not now.

Jef was the most accomplished ‘Renaissance man’ I’ve ever encountered and a significant role model for me. His gifts for UI design, and music, and his wit and humor and all-around skill in creating things will be sorely missed.

Daniel Kottke

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