Thursday, 19 August 2010

Eugene McDonnell 1926-2010

Eugene McDonnell, computer science pioneer has passed away. For many years he wrote the Vector column “At Play With J” recently collected and published by Vector Books.

Gene McDonnell died yesterday evening at home. Friends and family members were gathered, reminiscing, when Gene’s caretaker (since a stroke last week left him unconscious) came into the room to say “I think he’s passing.” And so it was.

Gene was a family man, utterly decent, generous, kindhearted; also erudite and witty. His contributions to APL were graceful as well as useful. I’m so grateful to have known and worked with him.

The McDonnell family is planning a memorial gathering at home, Sunday August 29. Jeanne can be reached at 1509 Portola, Palo Alto, 94306; phone 650 321-5260.

[Larry Breed]

Eugene McDonnell died peacefully at home in Palo Alto in the evening of August 17, surrounded by family and friends. All of us in the APL world owe him a debt for his pioneering work in APL.

I recently had the honor of writing the preface to Eugene’s “At Work and Play with J” (a collaborative editing effort of the J community and a work of which Eugene was very proud). I reproduce it here because it gives a sense of the man and his work.

In my youth, when I was just starting in APL, on receiving an issue of the APL Quote-Quad I would inevitably and eagerly first turn to Eugene McDonnell’s “Recreational APL” column. Through these columns I learned that it was possible for technical writing to be erudite, educational, and entertaining, and through them I learned a lot of APL.

Thus it was with Eugene’s “At Play with J” articles in Vector. In topics ranging from primes to permutations to pyramids to pi, with a cast of characters that included Apter, Black, and Crelle, Jacob and Josephus, Blanda and Montana and Taylor, and Scholes, the articles offered up the “smoother pebbles” and “prettier shells” found while playing on the seashore bordering the great ocean of knowledge. And we are all beneficiaries of this play.

I am pleased that Vector is publishing the collection of At Play With J as a book. I look forward to being educated and entertained once more.

[Roger Hui]

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