Notable deaths of 2012 from the worlds of technology, science & inventions

Commodore 64, Mr. Coffee, the cleanroom, electronic football and the laptop came from the minds of these pioneers

deaths in 2012

Pioneers in computing, the technology industry and the wonderful world of all sorts of inventions died in 2012. Here’s our tribute to them. (Contributions to this slideshow from IDG News Service).

RELATED: 2011’s notable tech industry deaths 

2010’s notable tech industry deaths 

2009’s notable tech industry deaths

Jack Tramiel, Commodore founder (died at 83 in April)
Credit: Wikimedia
Jack Tramiel, Commodore founder (died at 83 in April)

Tramiel's Commodore International in 1982 released the Commodore 64, a home computer that became one of the most popular models of all time, selling close to 17 million units between 1982 and 1994. Tramiel was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1928 to a Jewish family. He survived the Auschwitz concentration camp, after which he emigrated to the U.S. in 1947. Tramiel claimed that after surviving the Holocaust he could survive just about anything. Tramiel also purchased chip manufacturer MOS Technology to supply Commodore with needed parts and later, bought Atari Corp., from Time Warner Communications. More on Tramiel.

William Moggridge, laptop PC design inventor, at 69 in September
William Moggridge, laptop PC design inventor, at 69 in September

Bill Moggridge is widely credited as the man who came up with the clamshell design for the modern, folding laptop computer while with a company called Grid Systems in the late 1970s. 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,” Moggridge said, “it’s probably about starting with the people.” Shown here, a Grid Compass computer modified with a Galaxy Tab tablet to recognize Moggridge’s passing. More on Moggridge.

Arfa Karim Randhawa, world’s youngest Microsoft certified professional, at 16 in January
Credit: BBC
Arfa Karim Randhawa, world’s youngest Microsoft certified professional, at 16 in January

This Pakistani girl was a young computer genius who became the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Professional at age 9 (she died of heart failure following an epileptic fit). 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.”

Norman “Joe” Woodland, bar code inventor, at 91 in December
Credit: IBM
Norman “Joe” Woodland, bar code inventor, at 91 in December

Woodland, who created the bar code with Bernard “Bob” Silver while at an engineering school in Philadelphia now called Drexel University, used his knowledge of Morse Code to come up with the technology that has had such a huge impact on commerce. Woodland went to work at IBM to further the technology, which was first used for train carriages. Five billion products a day are now scanned optically using the bar code, or Universal Product Code, according to the standards body overseeing UPC. 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.

Norman Sas, inventor of electronic football game, at 87 in July
Credit: wikipedia
Norman Sas, inventor of electronic football game, at 87 in July

I still recall playing this game, received for Christmas back in the 1970s, where little plastic football players bounced and buzzed around on the metal football field (usually gravitating toward the corner where the motor was). Anyway, we had our fun with it, and it turns out that Norman Sas was the man to thank for this 1948 invention, which the National Football League eventually put its stamp on. The technology behind Tudor Metal Products’ electronic football was first used for car and horse racing games. A book, titled “The Unforgettable Buzz,” is in the works about the game and Sas, a toy inventor and mechanical engineer.

Roland Moreno, creator of the smart card, at 66 in April
Credit: Roland Moreno in 1984. Photograph: Jean-Claude Coutausse/AFP
Roland Moreno, creator of the smart card, at 66 in April

This French inventor’s idea for the smart card, or carte À puce, reportedly came to him in a dream and originally came in the form of a smart ring. The idea evolved into plastic cards in 1975 featuring embedded integrated circuits. These have gone on to be used for countless applications from bank cards to driver’s licenses to cellphone SIM cards. Moreno recognized the potential downsides of his invention: "They have the potential to become Big Brother's little helper," he said.

Daniel Weinreb, Lisp leader, at 53 in September
Credit: wikimedia
Daniel Weinreb, Lisp leader, at 53 in September

Weinreb was best known for his work with the Lisp computer programming language, in particular, Common Lisp. He also co-founded Symbolics, a Cambridge, Mass., maker of Lisp Machines for AI and software development, and Object Design, which sold ObjectStore, a leading commercial object-oriented database management system. At the end of his career, Weinreb worked for ITA Software, which Google bought in 2010. Weinreb’s blog.

Richard Alf, co-founder of San Diego Comic-Con International, at 59 in January
Richard Alf, co-founder of San Diego Comic-Con International, at 59 in January

This former comic book store owner turned his passion into a real phenomenon when he launched Comic-Con in 1970, providing a gathering place for those who love comics and by extension, costumes, video games, action figures, graphic novels and more. This year, the San Diego confab attracted some140,000 attendees.

Harold Seward, computer scientist, at 81 in June
Credit: Boston Globe
Harold Seward, computer scientist, at 81 in June

Seward developed the radix sort and counting sorta alghorithms in 1954 at MIT, according to Wikipedia, and also worked on the real-time Whirlwind Computer, a precursor to the first business computers and minicomputers. Seward also worked on guidance system technology for Apollo spacecraft and the Polaris missile.

Ray Bradbury, science fiction author, 91 in June
Credit: wikimedia
Ray Bradbury, science fiction author, 91 in June

The famed author was a favorite of tech types for his novels such as Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes, as well as his short story collection The Martian Chronicles. Not surprising given that his writings include descriptions of communications devices that foretold modern inventions, such as Bluetooth gadgets. In books such as Fahrenheit 451 Bradbury also expressed his feelings about censorship, though one Network World writer found Bradbury’s views toward the Internet somewhat puzzling (such as when he said: "The Internet is a big distraction. It's meaningless. It's not real."). Still, some proposed that a new HTTP error message code be named in Bradbury’s honor as: 451.

Robert Ledley, inventor of full-body CT scanner, at 86 in July
Credit: wikimedia
Robert Ledley, inventor of full-body CT scanner, at 86 in July

Ledley started off as a dentist but later became a biomedical researcher who pioneered 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. Though his most recognized achievement was inventing the first Computerized Tomography (CT) scanners in the 1970s for producing cross-sectional images of human body parts. His work was recognized with introduction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990 and a National Medal of Technology in 1997. More from the NY Times obituary.

David Waltz, computer scientist/AI expert, at 68 in March
Credit: Columbia University
David Waltz, computer scientist/AI expert, at 68 in March

Waltz finished his career as director of the Center for Computational Learning Systems at Columbia University, having built his computer science reputation earlier at Princeton University, supercomputer firm Thinking Machines and other organizations. The New York Times’ John Markoff wrote in his Waltz obituary that his work in “information retrieval provided the foundation for today’s Internet search engines.” Waltz also made breakthroughs in enabling computers to render 3D scenes. More at this tribute page on the Columbia website.

Sam Porcello, food scientist who created the Oreo cookie filling, at 76 in May
Sam Porcello, food scientist who created the Oreo cookie filling, at 76 in May

“Mr. Oreo,” a 34-year Nabisco veteran, held five patents directly related to the Oreo, with the most famous being for the luscious crème filling. Though this member of the Nabisco R&D team was really considered a foremost expert on cocoa. Porcello is also credited with creating other snacks, including Snackwells products marketed as healthy snacks.

Gerald Estrin, computer science pioneer, at 90 in March
Credit: UCLA
Gerald Estrin, computer science pioneer, at 90 in March

Estrin led development of WEIZAC, one of the first large-scale electronic computers outside of the United States and Western Europe, while in Israel. Estrin conceived the idea of reconfigurable computing, which led to new types of programmable computer chips. He wound up his career with UCLA’s Computer Science Department.

Steve Appleton, Micron CEO, at 51 in February
Steve Appleton, Micron CEO, at 51 in February

Appleton rose to the top of this Boise, Idaho, semiconductor company from the factory floor, where he began working in 1983. A professional stunt pilot, he lost his life when his experimental aircraft crashed.

Willis Whitfield, cleanroom inventor, at 92 in November
Credit: Sandia
Willis Whitfield, cleanroom inventor, at 92 in November

Nicknamed “Mr. Clean” by some, Whitfield came up with ideas for the modern laminar-flow cleanroom in 1960 while working at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. His advances, which resulted in a multibillion cleanroom industry within just a few years, included a highly filtered air flow that got rid of problem particles in manufacturing, pharmaceutical, healthcare and other settings.

Samuel Glazer, co-developer of Mr. Coffee, at 89 in March
Samuel Glazer, co-developer of Mr. Coffee, at 89 in March

Back in 1972, way before Starbucks was on every other street corner, there was Mr. Coffee, introduced by Glazer and business partner Vincent Marotta via a company called North American Systems (kind of sounds like a technology company, no?). The automatic drop coffee maker, engineered by a couple of former Westinghouse employees, became an instant hit. Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio kept it brewing as a high profile spokesman. The Mr. Coffee brand is now owned by Sunbeam and yes, there’s a Frappe edition.

Chaleo Yoovidhya, co-creator of Red Bull energy drinks, at 88 (though various ages have been given) in March
Credit: Reuters
Chaleo Yoovidhya, co-creator of Red Bull energy drinks, at 88 (though various ages have been given) in March

This Thai businessman started up a pharmaceuticals company in the 1960s but in the 1970s turned to making energy drinks loaded with caffeine and other substances, such as amino acids. The drink that broke out beyond Thailand was called Krathing Daeng (“Red Bull”), originally marketed to laborers and truckers but currently popular among everyone from athletes to late-night programmers who can no longer find Jolt soda. Yoovidhya died with a net worth estimated at $5 billion, making him one of Thailand’s wealthiest people.