Happy Birthday Doug Engelbart – born 30 Jan 1925
Happy Birthday Doug Engelbart – born 30 Jan 1925
From JD Eveland; occasional professor and founder of Sociotechtonics
I will always remember Doug as the optimistic visionary who befriended me some 25 years ago at what had to be the low point of both our careers. I can’t claim to have been a close friend, but we shared numerous breakfasts and lunches at an obscure coffee shop in Palo Alto, trying to figure out how his ideas might be translated into fundable research and practice. We never did progress to that goal, but I obtained a pretty clear insight into his vision of augmentation of human intellect and shared work within that context. In varying degrees, his ideas, which I had first encountered while still at the National Science Foundation, have inspired much of my subsequent research and thinking about how people work together in technological environments.
Doug’s highly integrated vision of human augmentation often led to a degree of discomfort and misunderstanding on the part of people attempting to understand what he was talking about. Doug was a true revolutionary, in the sense that his vision called for the uprooting and rethinking of just about everything that went into the first waves of what was then often called office automation. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the general idea was that if you dropped enough new technology into offices, good things would happen pretty much by themselves. It was technology push with a vengeance. Doug’s vision, by contrast, called for a careful development of the workgroup and its social relationships, with technology serving more in the background than as a principal feature, let alone a driver, of work relationships. So while in 1970, when his initial demonstrations of his AUGMENT system were made, he would be seen as a visionary, by the mid-1980s he was distinctly out of fashion, as technology was in the saddle.
Even as Doug was sharing his ideas with me over pancakes, the world was revolving yet again. 1986 saw the first of the Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) conferences, in Austin TX, where some 200 researchers and practitioners tried to figure out whether we really had a new field within which to work. Although much of what later developed under the CSCW umbrella was less than perfectly aligned with Doug’s vision of augmented work, it was clear that he was regarded by the participants as an inspirational figure and that his work set a standard to be emulated. In a sense, the CSCW movement and conferences helped to rehabilitate Doug in the eyes of the research community, even if it did not fully honor his ideas and expectations.
Doug’s true legacy lies in his expanded view of human augmentation through technology but always anchored in human relationships and the context of work. Reviewing his demonstration tapes is a fascinating way to understand how he was thinking, and both how much and how little of his ideas have made it into the mainstream. Doug was one of the very first people to think systematically about technology and work, and I will always be grateful for the time that we shared when we were both out of fashion. We need to go beyond simply appreciating the various new ideas that Doug brought to the table, to consider his vision in totality. Doug would never see the full value of his ideas brought to application, but there is still time, brother.
from Beau Hardeman, Professional – App/Prod Support, AT&T Services
I joined ARC (Augmentation Research Center at SRI (Stanford Research Center)) directly out of Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA in 1971. I remember well meeting Doug for the first time during the interview. He was wearing his staple black turtle neck and busy in his office with his back to me. Hoping to be at my best, I addressed him: “Hello Dr. Engelbart.” He turned around and, with a frown on his face and in that characteristic soft voice, said: “Please, call me Doug.”
I interviewed two labs at SRI, ARC and AIC (Artificial Intelligence Center) around the corner. I received offers from both. I must admit AIC was seductive, since I actually played the computer chess (Greenblatt program) during my interview, and the top scientists in AIC came to watch me [lose]. That program I believe is the mother of all chess programs. I got my revenge later.
But, there was something about Doug that drew me. I had never met a visionary of that caliber before or since, but whatever it was at first captivated me. For one, I had just been introduced to the punched card in college and was impressed enough with that, but here he had already graduated to the terminal and beyond that to the combination mouse and 5 finger keyset (where entering the alphabet resembled playing a chord on the piano) in a system (NLS) that used 2 letter mnemonics for commands. He was already addressing the issue of the non-typist versus the terminal keyboard (Doug couldn’t type, but pecked the keyboard with one hand). Text processing, the forerunner to word processing, I believe, also originated at ARC. ARC also housed the NIC, the Network Information Center, for the Arpanet (the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), the forerunner of the internet.
The 3 years at ARC were the most meaningful, not only career wise, but overall. Doug seemed as interested in the human side of the man-machine interface as he was the machine side. How interesting it was that we were perhaps one of the first groups at that time to utilize computer terminals in our day to day work, and we each had an individual office. Yet, through Doug’s brilliance, there were no terminals in the offices. They were out in a central area where we could collaborate as we used them. The office was for thinking, contemplating. We were also organized into groups called pods, and studied further by trained professionals. A typical office meeting would begin with us sitting Indian style on the floor, complete with a rug and “Smokey” (one of the system programmers) strumming something on the guitar as we waited for Doug. When the cheese and wine came out that’s when the guy in the dark suit came in and the bust was on. If the system crashed during the afternoon and Smokey announced it would be down for a while, there would be a rush to the newspaper to see if there was a meaningful matinee at the local theater. Often at lunch time I would dart around the corner to the AIC to play physicist Russell Targ blitz (5 minute) chess for lunch money. He was Bobby Fischer’s brother-in-law. No kidding.
When the Apple Macintosh came out in the 80’s, for me Doug’s work had gone full circle. The mouse had caught on and was here to stay. I was so enthralled with the MAC I was dubbed “MacBeau.” Now, whenever I see or use a mouse I know Doug’s vision is behind it. It’s too bad his name, along with ARC, was left out of “Triumph of the Nerds.” They give that leg of the journey almost entirely to PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). I remember Bill English and Chuck Irby and others collaborated with them, but I never doubted where the mouse was born.
The parallel of Menlo Park, California with Menlo Park, New Jersey never escaped me, given I also interviewed with Bell Labs in New Jersey that year. Thomas Edison was dubbed the Wizard of Menlo Park [New Jersey]. Doug was and always will be to me the Wizard of Menlo Park [California].
from Martin Hardy
Today as I sit here with my computer, thinking of Monday, the day we will gather to honor Doug Engelbart. My former boss and the person who invented the mouse and many computer methodologies that became part of the Internet. His grass root ideas, with the help by others who walked on the grass, has become an enormous Internet cloud of wires and computers and software. A cloud where we can all enter and virtually touch and interact with each other from anywhere around the world. We can enter this it to share our work, our concerns and ideas with each other. Use Doug’s Mouse and concepts to develop or find new ideas and methods and approaches to solutions based upon unilateral expressions, individual needs, feeling, and concerns. With the click of the Mouse, we can virtually hold hands and work together and help each other.
Doug, like Mandela, was a visionary. Each, in their own way, had a dream to help people. An idea that was unshakable. Man nor money could sway them. During their lives many days where dark and rainy. But they drew their warmth from their soles. And that warmth from within is what guided them down the road of their dreams.
In Doug’s passing, like Mandela, his warm sole now floats through the universe forever, weaving amongst the cosmos and the stars we see. Floating there for us to reach out and absorb into our soles. Helping us to connect and bootstrap, with each other to make this an easier and better world to live in. Thank you Doug.
from Gretchen Vadnais; daughter of Dorianne Engelbart
My sister Dee and I met some people at an event a couple of years ago who knew Doug, Dave, and Dorianne Engelbart when they were young. These were all kids together and we got some stories from them about how things were back then. They were all in and out of each other’s houses and all the families knew each other.
This was the first time I really understood how hard it was for our grandmother Gladys… from the stories we heard, the Engelbarts were the family of concern for the neighborhood. These folks weren’t so aware of the Leaches across the street on Johnson Creek; who were the people we heard about the most as we were growing up. Whatever the circumstances, you never heard anything about poverty from Doug, Dave, or Dori. Their stories made their years on Johnson Creek sound like paradise; playing in the creek, milking the cow, Grandpa Mathew Munson, doing odd jobs for Mr. Leach. One thing I get from their stories is that Gladys, who could be pretty formidable, seemed blissfully unaware of danger; stories about being caught under logs in the creek for instance, or canoeing over the Willamette Falls.
They also grew up without a father. My mother was, I think, 10 years old when Carl Engelbart died… Doug and Dave were several years younger. Mr. Leach and the grandfather must have been wonderful influences. It is hard to imagine how all three children went to college but they seem to have gone as a matter of course. Gladys and Carl were both educated; so the kids weren’t, as was true of many families then, the first generation to go to college.
Here is a famous story that I heard many times: Gladys, Matthew Munson, and Dorianne slept in the house. The two boys slept in a room over the garage. One day the two brothers argued about who was the fastest at whatever came up. They decided to put an alarm clock in the middle of their bedroom and set it for an early morning hour, like, say, 2:00 am. Whoever got to the alarm clock first would be declared the fastest for all time. Dorianne overheard this plan, snuck in their room when they were asleep, took the alarm clock and set it up in the garage ceiling under the bedroom. When it went off the two boys were crashing around in the dark, trying to find the alarm clock.
When I was pretty young…maybe 6 or so, Doug and Ballard would come to visit Gladys and we would all congregate in her living room. Then, for a really big treat, Uncle Doug would show us movies of his revolutionary work. These “movies” were full screen images of text (this is what I remember) with a blinking cursor. Then the cursor would move, some text would disappear, and then wow! it would move somewhere else on the screen. Now I know, of course, that this was pretty historical, but the unutterable boredom of this to a 6 year old!
From Christina Engelbart, Daughter #3, Executive Director, The Doug Engelbart Institute
Dear Dad, teacher, mentor, ring leader, long time business partner, and granddad to my kids:
Thank you for everything. You encouraged me to wonder and explore. You shared your love of nature and the outdoors, and your passions for folk dancing, raising earthworms and ducks, physical fitness. You taught me to take the stairs instead of the elevator if it’s just a few flights, park the car a bit further away because the exercise never hurt. You taught me to ride a bike, and later taught us some of your trick riding stunts. You played fun outdoor games with us kids, and told us imaginative bedtime stories that carried us to dreamland in miniature spaceships on wild adventures. Sometimes you fell asleep before we did, usually one of us would wake you up to find out how the story ended. For birthday parties you would sometimes create treasure hunts with the greatest clues, we all had so much fun.
You were the first in our world to bring home a Pluto Platter, and a skateboard. You took us bike riding, sailing, canoeing, camping, backpacking. I remember when your ducks got out and started following me to school. I remember coming home from a friend’s one Saturday and you were sitting on the family room floor with a bucket of filmy liquid and some wire frames you were bending into shape making — bubbles!? and proceeded to tell me about how the surface tension and shapes that formed could be so intriguing you wanted to study them. You wondered about alot of things, full of questions and quiet tenacity. You really cared about society and the world and what kind of shape it was all in. You were as good as your word, upstanding. I was proud of that in you. You insisted on family meetings, surfacing the issues, talking things through, collaborating, reaching consensus. You helped me with my math homework, taught me to re-wire a lamp, change a flat tire. You taught me to waltz and hambo. You sent me to college, walked me down the aisle, you were there to welcome my kids into the world and our growing Engelbart clan which delighted you so. You were a family man at heart, even as your research agenda took on a life of its own, demanded your undivided attention, you still enjoyed any excuse for a family get together.
And for all that, how lucky I was to have also had the chance to work alongside you on something that could make a huge difference to society, to think deep thoughts with you, and just to have had the extra quality time with you all those years.
You did so much for us, and for the world.
Thank you for everything, Dad.
From Biff J Cantrell, CEO, Gizmo Sprockets, Inc
If people seem to know the name Doug Engelbart at all, the jump to just his invention of the computer mouse. But his reach has been so much more, as we experienced in 1975 when he came to brief us on the ideas of Augmenting Human Intellect.
As a result we changed everything we do.
I was pleased to have recently come across this later interview about Only Collective IQ can save us, words we heard back in our boardroom on that day
His reach has been so vast, deep, and affected all of our business to this day. We have this image framed in our main foyer
Yes, the mouse is great, and everyone can use more, but the man was bigger than the mouse!