We’d heard recently that one of the fathers of the Macintosh was seriously ill, and last week brought the news that Jef Raskin passed away.
Raskin is widely acknowledged as the person who created many theoretical underpinnings of modern personal computing and then pulled together many threads of his own and others to create a team at Apple that would eventually produce the first Mac.
Raskin was forced out of Apple in 1982 as Steve Jobs took an ever greater interest in the Macintosh. He could be prickly, fighting what was often a rear-guard battle against revisionist history, ignorance of his role, and occasional indifference. Reporters like myself often received long email messages about what he perceived as our errors in reporting (or not reporting) his role.
But he was also apparently an incredibly generous and creative person, devoted to improving the relationship between people and computers which, by extension, would give people more control over their creative abilities. Raskin’s work since leaving Apple has centered on the Humane Interface, an entirely new and sometimes hard-to-grasp approach to interaction. It was just like him to create something simultaneously mystifying, fascinating, inscrutable, and potentially indispensable.
He was a renaissance man of the kind found only, these days, in technology fields: a musician, an artist, a computer science theorist, and a practical builder. Consider the way in which he resigned from the University of California, San Diego:
"When I resigned I got into a hot air balloon in the middle of Revelle Plaza and flew over the Chancellor’s residence playing my sopranino recorder so that he would hear the sound. He came out and I yelled down that I was resigning and floated off. I was an art professor at the time and it seemed arty to leave that way."
The world is poorer without Jef Raskin sometimes chiding, always teaching, always engaged.