John Walker (1949 - 2024)

It is with great sadness that we announce John’s death on Friday, February 2, 2024. He was born in Maryland, USA to William and Bertha Walker, who preceded him in death. John is survived by his wife Roxie Walker and a brother, Bill Walker of West Virginia.

Declining to follow in his family tradition of becoming a medical doctor, John attended Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) to pursue a future in astronomy. However, after he discovered the brave new world of computers, he never looked back. John worked at the university’s Project Chi (X) computing center where he studied computer science and earned a degree in electrical engineering.

John met Roxie on Thanksgiving Day in 1972, and they married the following year. Roxie and John drove cross-country a few months later for John’s new job in California. Eventually he left that first job and worked at various others in the bay area. In late 1976, John designed his own circuit board based on the then-new Texas Instruments TMS9900 microprocessor. This venture became Marinchip Systems, and eventually led to Autodesk.

The beginnings of Autodesk are well documented by John himself in The Autodesk File and from there John’s story is best told by John himself in his prodigious work, which is all methodically organized and available to the public at his website Fourmilab.

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This announcement has been posted on behalf of John’s family. The Scanalyst web site, created by John, seems the most fitting place to celebrate John’s life and legacy.

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RIP, John. You will be greatly missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to your family.

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Former Ricochet/Ratburger member 10Cents writes:

First off, I suppose I should say I don’t feel up to the task to write a tribute for John Walker. I am sure others are more able. That is true, but here is my Dime’s worth.

I got to know John Walker on the ricochet.com audio meet-ups (AMUs). He was a regular caller. Someone recently said that he was on those for over ten years. The AMU started at Ricochet but after I left there I started various ones which John joined. First at BallDiamondBall, then Ratburger which became the Scanalyst AMU without me. My guess he spent at least five hours a week since there were two or three calls per week. The AMUs were started by Curious John then through attrition I was left in charge. Now CTlaw is Mr. AMU.

I admired John for kindness in explaining things to almost anyone. I also appreciated his off-beat humor and stories. I learned a lot from him.

I don’t know about others, but I felt unbelievably surprised that someone like John would spend time with me. For me it was like going to the candy store but instead of candy it was insights and ideas. He brought so much to the table.

John was easy to take for granted because he was always there. He was a fixture in our lives. That fixture is gone. It is a struggle to think of life without him. It is hard not to cry at times.

I don’t know why John enjoyed our company but he did. I remember he teasing me when I came on a call. “There goes the neighborhood.” One of the last calls he invited me to “The Cheap Seats”. This was a part of his site where public domain movies could be seen. I am glad that the Ratburger experience showed him the way to start a forum site. He loved interacting with people on Scanalyst. And didn’t have the frustration of Wordpress there.

For those of us who got a lot of John’s time there are unending memories. For those of us who got a lot of John’s time, we struggle without the voice and wit we relied upon. I for one bow my head and humbly say thanks. I do wish I could have had a little bit more though.

I remember that John gave to this community day in and day out for years, first at Ratburger then at Scanalyst. He didn’t get a break. I calculate it was about six years. I am writing this post to fulfill my debt of gratitude to a kind man

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I posted John’s obituary to Hacker News, and there was a lovely outpouring of thanks and gratitude for John and his works.

The site management put up the “black armband”; the header of the page has a black top border. This is traditionally done in memoriam of a significant figure in the tech/science community dying.

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I found that while searching last night. The things people were saying about him were lovely.

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My condolences to his loved ones, to his family and to the French-speaking Autodesk community I’ve had the pleasure of leading since 2016, and beyond, to the entire community.
I had promised myself to visit John one day in Switzerland, and now my procrastination has put an end to that project.
In a way, you’ve guided my life John, professionally at least, and there are many of us who can say it, personally, who among Autodesk enthusiasts hasn’t spent hours of their personal time on Autodesk solutions, we used to call software?
We still have lasting memories, of course, of your site https://www.fourmilab.ch/, with its “Autodesk” sections and its much more personal sections that remind us or teach us what an extraordinary person you were.
Who, when he climbs the mountains around his home for his sport (his diet I should say…), reports on Twitter on his oxygen level, on the temperature, on the distance he has covered - only an engineer as you remained could do that! You kept that spirit. You instilled it in the pioneers of Autodesk’s early days, and it’s still the driving force behind our passion for invention, technology and programming, even if things have inevitably changed. That pioneering, inventive spirit lives on, rest assured.

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He made a huge impact on my life – I was a poor kid, and in high school using AutoCAD R11 was the first time I really had access to a PC. More recently, I managed to shed 60 pounds based on the wisdom of The Hacker’s Diet. This year I’m down 10 pounds so far, and will hit a normal weight in the next few months.

Godspeed, John! The world is better because you were here!

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and he continues:

I will miss the laughter the most. I remember him saying, “HTML is like the Three Stooges playing Hamlet.” John just made me laugh in so many ways. He would often add wry comments to things. Sometimes the wry comments were the best parts.

I have been searching my memory on why John Walker was so special. I don’t think it was his intellect even though that was a big part of him. It was something I try and sometimes achieve. He made people feel comfortable. He was family. He created a home. It was his humility and humanity. He was approachable and down to earth.

I like the words providential and providence. I think they are a nicer way to say lucky. In life sometimes one is in the right place at the right time. One wins “the lottery”. Isn’t this how some of us feel about John?

I will also miss his ability to jump from talking about cooking to putting rubber bands on sheep to economic issues. It was fun to take conversational rides with him.

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My first encounter with John was c. 2000. I was poking around online looking for some information about repeating the Cavendish experiment to measure the gravitational constant (G) using readily available equipment. Wouldn’t you know it, John had done it. Having thus stumbled on Fourmilab, I enjoyed reading many of the pieces there. It was about ten years later that our paths crossed again on Ricochet and on the AMUs.

It was a great pleasure to have known him. My deepest condolences to his loved ones.

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Godspeed John.

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The Atlanta Friends Meeting held John in the Light today.

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and more:

This might help some of us who struggle with wondering if we told John how much we loved and appreciated him. I think he knew because we showed up many of us every day. Our most irreplaceable asset is time and we gave it. How we spend time shows what we value. He cared for us by responding to us and we cared for him by responding to him.

We both worked hard in this community to have a good place, “a faculty lounge”(His words I think.) where people could discuss and debate things. He saw the need and met it.

I know it is belated but I want to send congratulations for 50 plus years to one that voted with her feet and spent that irreplaceable asset of time with John. I don’t know if she followed John or John followed her but they actually went to the ends of the earth together. John used to joke that for an archeologist the older you are the more they like you.

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One Man’s Remembrance of John Walker

I knew John Walker for about 10 years, almost entirely via the internet, save for two personal visits (lasting a few hours each) to Fourmilab in Lignieres, Switzerland. In that regard, I am merely one of many fortunate end-users of his websites. I understand this fact in the context of his being a trailblazer many times over, this time by forging what I believe to be a new layer of human relationships: genuine i-Friendships. In marked contrast to supposed “friends” of the polluting (anti-)social media arenas (yes, I mean in the sense of Christian vs. lion) John Walker created and maintained sites which offered users eclectic information, services of interest to many, and they were all free of charge. On his sites, he wrote and curated essays and links to eclectic areas of interest, usually in the public domain. On Scanalyst and its predecessor, Ratburger (which suffered the finally fatal curse of Wordpress, as John recounted for us, painfully), posts were not “moderated” (i.e. censored). John, himself, was a quiet, giant intellect, who had the exceedingly rare ability among geniuses and polymaths - which he undoubtedly was in the fullest sense of those words - to explain complex matters to lesser minds like mine; he did so without a trace of condescension. His generosity in this regard was tremendous and has been widely recognized, as a brief perusal of his posts on Scanalyst - or, indeed any of his writings - will show.

Scanalyst was Fourmilab’s latest iteration and refinement of John’s fundamental commitment to untrammeled, civil and wholesome communication via the internet. He delineated threats to such open communication so presciently in The Digital Imprimatur, if you didn’t know it was written 21 years ago, you might be forgiven for thinking it was written yesterday. His ability to foresee future developments in networking and computing are documented with fine granularity in The Autodesk File. That publication, in multiple formats and in the public domain, clearly shows his uncanny ability to foresee emerging milestones in the capabilities of personal computers (then termed “micro-“). It is a study in organization and dissemination of information necessary to create a new software company. Also therein, he persuasively defined the intellectual capital underlying what he calls “The New Technological Corporation”. Invest an hour reading this document and you will gain some insight into what I believe to be one of the finest minds of the century, if not a millennium! Studying the book containing this essay - The Autodesk File - IMO, should be a core component of any MBA program.

Scanalyst is a small tribal effort (open to anyone with manners wishing to participate) effort - a voluntary community - self-assembled to understand and describe reality - from cosmic to Planck-size, of the material universe; the nature and meaning of human existence and consciousness; the role of information and its manipulation. Between-the-lines, a recurring theme of Scanalyst was figuring out what was possible in connections between each other among flesh-and-blood people, as well as between ourselves and possible silicon-based entities of the future.

John Walker created unique online forums which probably only he could have created and maintained. These creations were, in all honesty, a central part of my life for the past decade. Every participant with whom I have communicated describes a penetrating sense of loss. This mourner believes that the community John created and attracted (not promoted) is a new and genuine phenomenon and serves as a poignant legacy. It is so far superior to the so-called “social networks” as to represent a categorical difference. In the same way he saw the evolving power of personal computers as he iterated Autodesk, he foresaw the evolving needs of real people’s wishes for decent online communities, free of commercial contaminants; users as worthy gems in their own right and not data repositories to be mined. Fourmilab and Scanalyst are worthy of John and of survival. And present members are in the process of assuring that as part of his much-deserved legacy.

I am comforted somewhat, for myself, because I did tell John - many times - how grateful I was for everything he created for my (and our) benefit. I am particularly glad that I specifically told him that his efforts were responsible for keeping me intellectually (and even emotionally) alive in this, the winter of my life. He was a living heuristic - a word which I understand as belonging to him - but which he freely used and loaned continuously. I don’t know for sure if i-love is a ‘thing’. Whether or not it is, I feel it for John Walker.

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On mine as well… My father is an AutoCAD expert doing engineering projects since the early 90’s and I owe the few perks of my childhood to that. Although today I more inclined to the Open Source Software world, AutoCAD was a huge part of my life. Thanks John!

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Wisdom. John Walker was so well read, insightful, thoughtful and it was such an honor to have a bit part in the dialog of topics important to all of humanity that were discussed intelligently on Ratburger and Scanalyst every day.

I shared the love of space and technolgy with John on Ratburger and Scanalyst.

John was much more than the founder of a multi-billion dollar tech company Autodesk and co-author of AutoCAD. He likely tutored many, many tech enthusiasts through fourmilab.ch

My first job in the 1990s was night teaching AutoCAD at a local community college and the first stock I bought was Autodesk (at the time ticker symbol ACAD).

As a stock owner, I read the press release of the founder of the corporation, cowboy coder John Walker’s leaving the company he founded, and he comforted investors by stating he was packing stock with him. Later I found John Walker on the Web and much of his writing on fourmilab.ch and read his great business/tech masterpiece Autodesk File . He shared so much of his projects, opinions, and material throughout his life, I feel like I lost a brother – and humanity has lost a giant. Yes he was technically gifted, but his analytic ability from science to politics was exceptional and always a good sense of humor.

I regret not thanking John Walker while he was among us, he will l be missed.

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John along with Autodesk, AutoCAD, AutoLisp, AutoShade, Autodesk Animator and many more projects were my life for decades. And - and in my brain and heart - always will be.

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and more:

I want to express my gratitude to the comments on this thread. They have comforted me. I wish more would share the relationship they had with John Walker. Your words would help others at this time.

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https://www.theregister.com/2024/02/13/john_walker_obit/

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