Share your remembrances of Douglas Engelbart

9 Responses to “Remembrances: Douglas Engelbart”

  1. So sad to hear about the loss of such a dear friend and visionary, Douglas Engelbart.

    Last night I was having a rather mundane that was interrupted by the Program for the Future gang who all came running together from all directions and we lead a huge procession down the street and into a great circle with thousands of people. Then we all self organized into smaller circles holding palm against palm (like in square dancing — ladies star). In the dream, these links were saved in cosmic sense and displayed almost like a constellation.

  2. Doug Engelbart was a wonderful man, always a glint of humor in his eyes. He had deep care for individuals and for humanity as a whole. We will miss him so much. As people are gathering with memories and stories about him, feelings of hope are coming with the tears. Besides amazing inventions and a world-changing philosophy, Doug Engelbart also inspired communities of people determined to realize his vision for a better world. His dream will be alive always and forever.

  3. Lev Gonick Says:

    I remember Valerie and Doug walking into a Board Meeting of the NMC (http://www.nmc.org) in San Francisco in about 2003. A scheduled hour long exchange on his work turned into a dialogue that extended for hours, through lunch, into the late afternoon. He challenged us to help realize his vision of a networked improvement community through the work of the NMC. I think those of us involved in technology and education through the work of the NMC drew inspiration from his challenge. For me, Doug would always start a conversation about a technology with a human problem he was attempting to address. His framing of the problem was often personal and intimate, as his explanation of his keyset invention. Doug shared that he observed his daughter playing piano and realizing the value of chords and notes as an engineering analog for navigation the online world. The mouse, of course, was only one (early and his view stage 1) instantiation of that human observation. Doug was a giant and inspiring human being on the power of technology to be leveraged for the collective good. He touched generations of innovators and admirers who stand on his shoulders. It was an honor and privilege to know him.

    • carynbc Says:

      “A scheduled hour long exchange on his work turned into a dialogue that extended for hours, through lunch, into the late afternoon.”

      This phrase jumped out at me – isn’t this fluidity part of the way? Part of what is so challenging to capture technologically as well as part of his seemingly infinite charm and his deep love and respect for people.

  4. Karl Hebenstreit, Jr. Says:

    To Doug — Your laser vision honing essential leverage points forever guides our “capability to deal with complex, urgent problems”

    Doug’s Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework literally transformed my life

    Being based in Washington, DC, I have only had the honor of talking with Doug extensively three times: with Susan Brummel Turnbull as described below; at the Bootstrap Alliance East meeting hosted by Margaret Chambers at the University of Maryland, November 2-4, 1998; and a National Science Foundation lecture in 2003. However, Doug’s profound impact on my life is evident.

    As a Computer Systems Analyst at the US Department of Education, my assignments had me supporting five offices located in five separate buildings. Out of necessity, I needed to find the strategic activities that could be supporting all or most the offices simultaneously. The most strategic activity I identified was finding ways to improve the effectiveness of how people communicate with each other. A second driving force was working with the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), at a time when we were installing the first network environment for over 300 employees, many with disabilities. The complexity of the challenges reinforced my intuition that we needed to find ways in which the relatively small groups of experts scattered around the world could effectively work together to address these issues.

    My search for sources to guide improving collaborative technologies and dealing with complexity inevitably led me to Doug’s vision and work. I wrote a paper to submit to the ASSETS 1998 conference, at the time the government was starting the re-authorization process of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. At a government-wide summit, from hearing her presentation, I approached Susan Brummel Turnbull about reviewing my paper, which was based on Engelbart’s 1962 paper, Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework. She scanned through the paper, and said, ‘This is great! I’m meeting with Doug next week, why don’t you join us?’ I expected that the meeting would be another large group, but was totally amazed when I spent the entire afternoon with just Doug and Susan! I asked her to let me know if there were any opportunities for me to transfer to the US General Services Administration, and six months later a position became available.

    Susan –
    Thanks for lowering my degrees of separation to 1 !!

  5. Jan Freijser Says:

    [My ruminations are partly based on several long conversations with Doug, in Nov 2009, in the cantine of SRI, and a walk round Atherton.]

    Some thoughts about Doug

    It is so difficult to put into words what I feel Doug was after.
    What follows here is a bit of a pot of paint, rather several pots, splattered against a wall.
    The only thing I hope for is that the pots contain high quality paints in purest primary colours, so that some essential insights may be revealed.

    I believe the three main and deepest influences came from As We May Think, by Vannevar Bush (1945), from the writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, self-made anthropological linguist (and chemical engineer), who studied native American languages, Hopi and Nahuatl among others, and his purchase of a 1916 Ford Model T, bought in 1938, when he was 13.

    One of the things that struck me most in Vannevar Bush’article was his suggestion that at some time in the future the machine would be able to read our mind, or understand our speech and behave and act along with us, “as we thought”. I believe Doug was after this in his own, but more realistic way.
    Whorf’s ruminations about the exotic and complex nature of native American languages led him to formulate the hypothesis of linguistic relativity, which postulates that essential differences between languages lead their speakers to think differently and perceive and experience the world around them differently. Language provided the cognitive map for the way we thought, experienced, and for the complex system of behavioral templates that underlies our culture.
    Doug’s tinkering and interaction with the Model T, as he brought the machine back to running condition, gave him a deep insight into how ideas and inventions can move from ideas to physical, touchable reality. It also provided him with a sense of the power of communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing, as he went about trying to find people in the neighborhood who knew about Ford Model Ts, and learning from them how it worked and what he needed to do.

    Doug dug deep.
    Into the primary elements of what makes us human.
    For instance the tool for making sense of the world around us, our language.
    I think that via Whorf’s writings he came to realize that the whole chain of having ideas, trying them out, making artefacts and tools, and ultimately using them, was intimately connected with Whorf’s descriptions of the wonderfully exotic American languages.
    As he was conceptualizing new ideas on the bedrock of applied computer technology, he realized we needed new concepts to deal with these new tools.
    He felt that technology had to be something you engage and converse with, and in that process you had to discover and learn its ‘language’.
    The language of artifacts was partly based on words or terms, but more interestingly, it also contained patterns of movement, external and internal, as well as completely new and alien, concepts. This language would arise during the design and development of the artifact, because its maker would create it with this in mind. One might almost think he was trying to make the machine human, give it a soul.
    Although this may sound fluffy and new agist, I believe all this is essential for the sustainability for our existence on this globe. If you think about his H-LAM/T concept, you realize the scope of his way of interacting with technology. He actually followed Heidegger’s dictum, that the essence of technology is not something technological. Damn right, the essence of technology is us humans, with all our talents, skills and capabilities. H-LAM/T stood for Human, using Language, Artefacts and Methodology, in which he is Trained.
    So we are there first, we like to do stuff, think new ideas, play around with them, make them move somewhere else, and at some point we may think, yes we can create something that is useful, meaningful, or entertaining, and truly augments our human capabilities.

    I’m not saying it’s easy to understand what Doug’s deepest intentions were, but I know they were good and right. I don’t think Doug was a dreamer, certainly not “just a dreamer”.
    I believe we should have pursued his line of thinking in a much more productive way, on a large scale. Humanity would have been the better for it.

    What is most awesome about Doug’s approach is that it applies to our relationship with technology in general. All my life I have felt a kind of holistic monster creeping on my back about everything that I became interested in, and dabbled in, from sports (tennis and motor racing), to the arts (Vermeer, Rembrandt, and the abstract art of Mondrian, Pollock), to dancing (Pina Bausch), to music (Jazz and world music), to motorcycling. I felt all these were related by one common element. After a 20 years’ search I concluded the common shared element was ‘movement’ and ’emotion’. The built-in desire to move (in all its senses), is a biological, mental and spiritual necessity. Without movement we don’t exist. How does this connect with Engelbart’s work? Well, we need to think collaboration, and what that effectively means. True sharing of knowledge and new insights is required for effective working together. We have to think about the nature of information (“any difference that makes a difference”, in Gregory Bateson’s words), and of knowledge as, essentially, a movement from intention, to an effort of aiming, and ultimately, hitting a target. These are the essence of meaningful movement.
    Knowledge is movement along a path towards where you want to be, away from where you are now. So Doug’s intentions, seen in this light were about enabling movement. A movement towards a better us, and a better earth. How and why it was possible that Doug’s framework for movement was ignored for so many years, can only be explained by considering disasters that we have allowed to occur over the last 20-30 years, man-made ecological disasters, the BSE crisis, ENRON, and the big credit crisis we’re suffering from now, because of our worship of the god of Greed, and so-called progress. It sickens the mind to think of these things, especially because we’re all accomplices to some extent, no matter how minor our role.
    Finally, the only thing I’m left with is hope. It isn’t much, but it is something.
    From my own work perspective I see myself back in the 19th century, like so many independent freelance workers. So there is a good amount of cynicism on my part, which keeps growing, when I experience the dilettante ways in which “things are done”, on the web, in the cloud.
    We have not even arrived at square one.

    Doug is there, always, reminding me of that.

  6. carynbc Says:

    Knowledge as meaningful movement, beautiful. Consideration for what is left out of contemporary frameworks. What a moving post, so to speak.

    • Jan Freijser Says:

      Thank you, carynbc.
      Having just watched Ted Nelson’s moving homage to Doug and Karen Engelbart’s talk (of 9 Dec 2013, Honoring Doug, at the Computer History Museum), also so moving. I have just re-read my own piece for the first time since I wrote it. When talking to Doug, you realize you’re entering a gold mine. It hurts to realize how little precious material we mined, when Doug was there for so many years, offering his precious treasures practically for free.

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