RIP John Walker, software and hardware hacker extraordinaire

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Obit Polymath, pioneering developer of package and hardware, a prolific writer, and existent old-school hacker John Walker has passed away.

His decease was announced successful a brief individual obituary connected SCANALYST, a chat forum hosted connected Walker's ain remarkably wide and fascinating website, Fourmilab. Its sanction is simply a playful take connected Fermilab, nan US physics laboratory, and fourmi, nan French for "ant."

To those of america successful nan PC industry, John Walker is astir apt astir known arsenic nan laminitis of Autodesk, nan institution which successful 1982 took Computer-Aided Design (CAD) retired of nan world of costly minicomputers and brought it to mass-market microcomputers successful nan shape of AutoCAD, moving connected nan then-new IBM PC. AutoCAD grew out of an earlier programme by Michael Riddle called INTERACT CAD. Among different machines, INTERACT ran connected nan computers sold by Walker's earlier company, Marinchip Systems. Walker stepped down arsenic president of AutoDesk successful 1986, but successful a typically non-conformist move, he continued to activity for nan institution he started arsenic a programmer.

Before Marinchip, Walker execute immoderate notoriety arsenic nan writer of ANIMAL, a self-replicating machine crippled which has nan dubious grant of being considered arsenic 1 of nan first proto-viruses, arsenic he described successful an effort called the Animal Episode.

Just a twelvemonth aft it was founded, AutoDesk acquired Project Xanadu, nan pre-WorldWideWeb distributed hyper-media strategy devised by Ted Nelson, nan writer, interrogator and "systems humanist" who coined nan connection hypertext. AutoDesk sponsored nan improvement of Xanadu for astir a decade. In 1988, Walker's description was almost grandiloquent:

It didn't happen. In 1991, Walker expressed concerns astir nan company's guidance successful a widely-circulated memo called the Final Days. AutoDesk sold Xanadu off nan pursuing year, and Walker near nan institution 2 years later. This freed him to prosecute his wide-ranging and divers interests.

He proceeded to constitute his ain history of AutoDesk, entitled the Autodesk File, his history of his astir celebrated company. Its subtitle, Bits of History, Words of Experience is simply a motion to nan classical textbook Smalltalk-80: Bits of History, Words of Advice, but successful truth AutoCAD's customisation is driven by nan other "language of nan gods": a dialect of XLisp called AutoLisp, arsenic the AutoDesk File explains. Such is nan power of AutoLisp that galore different CAD programs see forms of it, including BricsCAD, DraftSight, and IntelliCAD and its dozen-plus derivatives.

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Walker wrote respective different books, immoderate of which won him different audiences. One of these was his free e-book the Hacker's Diet, humorously if inaccurately subtitled How to suffer weight and hairsbreadth done accent and mediocre nutrition. He besides wrote a number of original science fabrication short stories, his guideline to reversing myopia, and galore different fields: astronomy, chemistry, consciousness studies, fare and nutrition, mathematics, nanotechnology, physics and more. Some are highly controversial, specified arsenic his "one onslaught and you're out" argumentation connected poorly written English, and his disdain for large governments, including the European Union.

Former caput of nan Windows section astatine Microsoft, Steven Sinofsky, who posted a lengthy tribute to Walker connected Twitter, called Fourmilab a "treasure trove," pinch which we heartily agree.

John Walker was calved successful Maryland successful 1949, and died February 2, 2024. He leaves his woman of 51 years Roxie, and his relative Bill. ®