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Memories and Tributes for Wesley A. Clark

On Monday February 22nd, 2016, the computing world lost a great pioneer. This page is dedicated to his memory, a place for friends, colleagues and family to share stories. We will simply present them here in the order they come in. If you would like to share your own story please contact us.

Wes's memorial service will be held at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue on Friday 4 March, 2016. The order of service can be found in two PDF documents here: cover and full document. The live web stream can be found here. The service will begin at 1pm Eastern Standard Time.

NEW: Al Rodbell 4/15/2016

Excellent blog story from back in 2011: My neighbor, the inventor of the personal computer

Tom Stockebrand 2/23/2016

In about 1958 Wes came to me and said "Tom, develop a tape drive that has so much capacity that there will no more In/Out, only "In". [Does seem laughable today, but not at the time]. That ended up as 8 14" drives with a mile of tape on each, internal to TX-2‚ which, I'm told by Les Earnest --Speech Recognition-- still had original data inside 10 years later. Wes propounded the idea of a "shift register" code to mark the tape into timing and block tracks... Dick Best, my Hardware mentor, suggested Manchester encoding.

A year or so later he came around again and said "OK Tom, how about one that will store all the programs an individual will ever need and will have no more than one error in the lifetime of that programmer... and will fit in your shirt pocket". Charlie Molnar made that become Linc tape and a later iteration was Dectape. (I did hate it that he would roll the tape out on the floor, sprinkle cigarette ashes on it then roll it up again and use it.)

Those who have better memories (or good notes) should tweak this story as appropriate. And he would hang by the TOPS of his feet upside down in doorways (in cubical partitions).

Watta fella

Bruce Damer 2/23/2016

With his work in the late 1950s and 1960s designing the TX-0, the TX-2 and the LINC, Wes Clark created the first experience of what we today call "personal, interactive computing." Using the TX-2, Ivan Sutherland created Sketchpad, the ancestor of all interactive graphics systems, which was an inspiration for Douglas Engelbart's later oN-Line System at SRI. The LINC is considered to be the first workstation, built by the user from a kit, then transported to a lab, office and even used in a home. Alan Kay wrote that "..the feel of the LINC was the feel of personal computing." When we interact with the screen of a computer or touch a tablet or phone today, we are experiencing a vision first brought to life decades ago by Wes Clark. When we heard the news, Galen and I stood by the LINC in the DigiBarn for a quiet moment of remembrance and deep appreciation of a truly great man who humbly with humor, wit and genius changed our world (and who would rap your knuckles for saying so).

Andy Patros 2/24/2016

Hi Bruce, My name is Andy Patros, and we've corresponded in the past. I own one of the Digital Mona Lisas, and were so kind to provide me with a link on the Digibarn website years ago. I just wanted to share that I reached out to Wes Clark in May of 2015, as I was continuing my research on the Digital Mona Lisa and it's creator, H. Philip Peterson. I found that Wes headed up the TX-0 and TX-2 projects, and that Mr. Peterson was on his team for those efforts as well. Information about Mr. Peterson is scant and limited, so I called Wes to see if he could help me learn something more about Mr. Peterson. Wes was so inviting and engaging that we spoke once a week for 2-3 hours for the next couple of months.

In addition to discussing Mr. Peterson, (whom he said did not like being addressed by his real name Harold, he preferred Phil and he was born in Utah), we discussed Wes's time at Hanford Nuclear, his work on the LINC and his contribution to early ARPA development among other items (I'm of greek descent and Wes knew some greek). I was enthralled with our conversations and wanted to learn more from Wes. Anyway, I thought I would share my limited yet wonderful experience getting to know a little bit of Wes.

May his memory be eternal.

Al Gilman 2/24/2016

I am one of the people touched by Wes Clark's magic. In 1968 I used a LINC to build a pen-input interactive graphics system that was a drillmaster for the practice of Chinese calligraphy. It was my interest in Chinese, shared with Wes, that got me the job, and produced what might be the slickest hack of my long and hack-laden career.

Severo Ornstein 2/27/2016:

Dear Wes,

I know you'll forgive me for speaking in ordinary English today, rather than in our usual metaphorical patois. Not everyone understands "Wesley Speak" you know. So what's up over there? I guess I'll be finding out for myself soon enough. I wish you hadn't gone off quite so suddenly, although I actually wasn't too surprised when Mary Allen told me you had left — you've been disappearing around corners as long as I've known you. But somehow, from around those corners you've managed to teach me not only how computers work but how to live. I know I've been a tough student at times, but I think I've got it now. It often feels as though you taught me almost every important thing I know.

Mostly you taught by example. I remember watching you on a rock climb I took you up many years ago. I could see that you were scared of the height, but you weren't going to let it slow you down. I do remember one time when you gave me explicit direction: I was about to give a talk about macromodules and you saw that I was a little nervous. So you said "Just figure out the first thing you're going to say and the rest of it will go fine." And by golly, it did.

There are so many things I can't believe. I can't believe it's been more than half a century since I first heard you and Belmont give a talk about the brain. I decided right then and there that someday I wanted to work with you. I can't believe that I managed it just a few years later or that we would become lifelong friends — even more than lifelong, because your imprint will be with me until I join you over there.

So say hello to Charlie from me and tell him I'll be along sometime soon. It'll be good to be together again.

From your sidekick,


Jerry Cox 2/28/2016

Perhaps it is time to recount the story that has become known as the “Prime-Number Drop.” For those not familiar with cons (AKA swindles), you should know that one of the classic cons is called the pigeon drop (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pigeon_drop).

In the spring of 1964, I was worried about the seeming lack of diligence that Wes and Charlie displayed toward writing an NIH grant application that could support their LINC work after they arrived in St. Louis. To turn my worry into action, I booked a flight to Boston and arrived unannounced in the Center Development Office (CDO) in Kendall Square just east of MIT. Wes and Charlie were there, but instead of grant writing they were engaged in a debate about the primacy of the Mersenne number 2^11-1 = 2047. Charlie held that it was compound and Wes demanded to know the factors, if so. He had begun the process of finding out by dividing primes into 2047. He had gotten to 23 as I arrived.

Feeling that their time would be better spent working on the grant, I volunteered to finish the process of determining if 2047 was prime. I retired to another room and tried the next prime, 29, and its successors. Finding no factors I returned to Wes and Charlie’s office and reported that 2047 must be prime. Charlie shot our his hand and said, “ You want to bet?” I accepted and we agreed on stakes, a dinner in a fine restaurant in St Louis. At just that moment, Wes looked down at the paper on his desk where he had noted his calculations and said, “Oh-oh!” The result of his last trial divisor, 23, was wrong and was indeed a factor. Therefore, 2047 was not a prime!

I had the feeling of being conned, but decided that the purpose of the trip had been served. Wes and Charlie returned to work on the grant application. The dinner later that year in the St Louis Gaslight Square district was a delight and included the celebration of the news of the NIH grant’s success. Jerry

Jack Rubin 3/1/2016

I first met Wes in 2007, when a restored LINC was unveiled at the Computer History Museum in Mountainview, California. We had a chance to speak after the event and I asked him about the design process he followed to develop the machine. As we talked further, Wes told me that he still had his design notebooks and would be willing to share them with me.

Not long after, I met with Wes and Maxine in their Brooklyn apartment. They received me graciously, then Wes and I set to work. He was very generous with his time and in several long sessions over the next three days, we went through the LINC design notebooks, page by page. I’m sorry that I’m not enough of a computer scientist to have truly understood the full implications of his work, but I think we did a pretty good job of working through general principles. Scans of the notebooks and audio of the interviews are now online in the LINC archives at Washington University.

Wes was a kind and gentle man. Even when tired, he continued to work with me and kept me on my toes with his intelligent humor. He had much to be proud of but he was humble about his work and quick to share design credit with his others, especially Charlie Molnar.

It was a privilege to work with Wes and become his friend; I only wish I had come to know him sooner.

3/3/2016 Jo Ebergen

I can't be at the memorial service,
so I thought I send you a few memories I have of Wes.

I had only heard from Wes through Charlie Molnar and Ivan Sutherland.
I believe I met Wes for the first time at Sun Labs after Charlie Molnar had died.
The first impressions were of a man with his inseparable pipe.
But I remember Wes more importantly as a man with many talents.
He was a very gifted word smith.
He could write wonderful memos with well-engineered and often humorous prose.
He is also one of the best listeners I ever met.
A gift that few talented people have.
Wes paid an amazing attention to detail.
Even details that didn't really matter but were very humorous.
I remember the little puppet theater he made from wood.
It was was truly astounding, and perfect to the smallest detail.
Wes could also tell wonderful stories that fascinated his listeners.
And then he would end the story with
"But you shouldn't always believe me. Sometimes I make things up, you know."

It was a great pleasure to have known Wes Clark.

I wish you and your family all the best in the coming days,

--Jo Ebergen--

Steve Nowick 3/7/2016:

I was greatly saddened to learn about Wes' passing.

I met him several times, since arriving at Columbia as a junior faculty member in Jan. 1993. This includes the anniversary Macromodules celebration at Washington University, where I was a speaker.

He also gave a phenomenal review of the macromodules project in Async-99 Symposium in Barcelona. My leading colleague at Philips/TU Eindhoven, Kees van Berkel, was shocked at how much of Kees' work in the 1980-90's had actually already been initiated earlier by Wes and company.

He was a caring, thoughtful, interesting and humorous colleague and friend. I wish I had spent more time with him.

I still recall your own graciousness in inviting me to your home as part of IEEE Async-05, which I ran as general chair. I was saddled with last minute logistic issues I had to resolve, and had to decline.I wish I had been there with you and him. All my caring thoughts to you, and with my warm memories of him.

best wishes - -Steve

Significant News Media Stories:

New York Times (Feb 28 2016): Wesley A. Clark, Made Computing Personal, Dies at 88

TechRepublc story Wesley A. Clark, legendary computer engineer, dies at 88

The Computer History Museum has honored Wes with a front page story at:
including a talk he gave at the museum in 1981.

Find another talk given by Wes from the History of Personal Workstations meeting in 1986
Thanks to Len Shustek for providing this.

Other sites on Wes Clark:

See our pages on the LINC@45 restoration and reunion project (2007)

Stan Augarten with Wes Clark on the LINC - "Who Invented the Personal Computer?"

Wesley A. Clark page on Wikipedia


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