Happy Birthday, Ivan!

I spent the afternoon at the Computer History Museum at an event celebrating the 70th birthday of Ivan Sutherland. He's famous for a whole lot of things, the earliest being Sketchpad, a man-machine graphical communication system that he built in 1962. In a lot of computing fields, and particularly in graphics, if you read any paper and follow the bibliography links back, you're almost certain to find something written by Ivan or one of his students. Bob Sproull MC'd the event and Alan Kay (one of Ivan's student's) gave a long talk. The list of people that showed up to honor Ivan was amazing. A couple who's names you might know were Henri Gouraud and John Warnock.

When I was working on my PhD thesis, I noticed that all the papers I was reading had backpointers eventually to Sketchpad. When I finally read Ivan's thesis, I was totally blown away. I ended up with Ivan on my thesis committee and I think of my thesis as a macro-expansion of about half a page from Sketchpad.

You really should read his thesis. It will blow you away. Among many other things, it can be fairly said that Ivan invented Object Oriented Programming.

For another life-altering experience, you should read one of his few non-technical papers, Technology and Courage. Besides being an outstanding researcher, he's also started a couple of companies and is a venture capitalist: his advice on courage is mandatory reading.

May 22, 2008