December 31, 2012

Making a difference

All of the blogs, e-zines, television news and discussion forums are recapping the notable deaths of this past year. Almost all of these seem to be focusing on sports and entertainment celebrities. I thought I'd do a little obit piece for the also-rans... the people who died this year who made a difference that will last longer than the celluloid... most of whom you've never heard of.

Arfa Karim Randhawa, world’s youngest Microsoft certified professional, died at age 16 in January from respiratory arrest resulting from an epileptic seizure. This Pakistani girl was a young computer genius who became the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Professional at age 9. Bill Gates was so impressed with her smarts that he invited her to visit Microsoft’s U.S. headquarters in 2004. Among her words of wisdom spoken to reporter Todd Bishop: “If you want to do something big in your life, you must remember that shyness is only the mind. If you think shy, you act shy. If you think confident you act confident. Therefore never let shyness conquer your mind.”

F. Sherwood Rowland, Chemist, died at 84 in March. Rowland was groundbreaking researcher who was recognized by the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry. In 1974 he and his team discovered that chlorinated fluorocarbons, or CFCs, were damaging the ozone layer. The findings were met with skepticism by the scientific community. Rowland did not shrink from speaking out on the potentially catastrophic consequences of ozone depletion, and he strongly advised politicians and activists to push for a ban on CFCs. Today's discussions of climate change could use more voices like his.

Jack Tramiel died at 83 in April. Tramiel founded Commodore International and in 1982 released the Commodore 64. The little home computer became one of the most popular of all time, selling nearly 17 million units between 1982 and 1994. Born 1928 to a Jewish family in Lodz, Poland, he survived Auschwitz concentration camp and in 1947 emigrated to the U.S. Tramiel claimed that after surviving the Holocaust he could survive just about anything. He purchased chip manufacturer MOS Technology and Atari Corp. from Time Warner Communications.

Sam Porcello was the food scientist who died at 76 in May. Known as “Mr. Oreo,” the 34-year Nabisco veteran held five patents directly related to the Oreo, with the most famous being for the crème filling. As a member of the Nabisco R&D team he was really considered an expert on cocoa, but Porcello also created healthy snacks, including Snackwells products.

Sally Ride, Ph.D., Educator, Astronaut and Physicist died July 23, 2012 at the age of 61, following a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. beat out 1,000 other applicants for a spot in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) astronaut program. She went through the program’s rigorous training program and got her chance to go into space and the record books in 1983. After NASA, Sally Ride became the director of the California Space Institute at the University of California, San Diego, as well as a professor of physics at the school in 1989. In 2001, she started her own company to create educational programs and products known as Sally Ride Science to help inspire girls and young women to pursue their interests in science and math. 

Ride received many honors, including the NASA Space Flight Medal and the NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award. She was also inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. Although Sally Ride never publicly stated that she was a lesbian, her official obituary states she was in a 27-year relationship with Dr. Tam O’Shaughnessy, a woman. She will always be remembered as a pioneering astronaut who went where no other woman had gone before.

Robert Ledley, the inventor of the full-body CT scanner, died at age 86 in July. Ledley’s first career was as a dentist, but later became a biomedical researcher. He is credited as a pioneer in the use of computers in the healthcare field. Ledley founded the nonprofit National Biomedical Research Foundation in 1960 to promote the use of computers in biomedicine. His work was recognized with introduction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990 and with a National Medal of Technology in 1997.

William Moggridge died in September at age 69. In the late 1970s while with a company called Grid Systems Moggridge came up with the clamshell design used for laptop computers. The $8K, 12-pound device, quite portable for its time, gained prominence through NASA and military use. One of Moggridge’s claims to fame was coining the term “interaction design,” referring to the common sense idea that software and hardware should fit people’s needs. “If there’s a simple, easy principle that binds everything together, it’s probably about starting with the people.”

Norman “Joe” Woodland created the bar code (along with Bernard “Bob” Silver) while at Drexel University. He died in December at age 91.  He used his knowledge of Morse Code to come up with a technology that is used five billion times every day. In 1992, Woodland received the National Medal of Technology, and in a more modern tribute to Woodland and Silver’s work, Google introduced a Google Doodle atop its search page in 2009 recognizing the 57th anniversary of the patent.



One Fly said...


Old NFO said...

Thanks, and I actually used Moggridge's Grid computers for a number of years (and they were DAMN HEAVY)!!!

JEG43 said...

Thanks. And thanks for all your work this year. I hope you have the energy to continue in '13.