Obituarius Obscurus

Here lie the names of those who have passed away and who made remarkable contributions to the world–and yet the world hardly knows it. Unless you are a pop musician, an A-list actor, or had a blurb in People Magazine, no one (specifically the media) spills ink for those who, arguably, made more far reaching contributions to the lives of ordinary people or were much more talented. These are not necessarily people of faith or Catholic inclinations, but their small story should be told–and really wasn’t.

James Cooley (June 29, 2016) – along with associated John Tukey, developed the Fast Fourier Transform (FFT).  The FFT is a computational efficient Discrete Fourier Transform (DFT) which is a discrete-time version of the analogous Fourier Transform, which reveals the spectral composition of a time-domain signal. The Fourier Transform is incredibly important and with the advancements in digital computers in the later half of the 20th century, the FFT was incredibly valuable and indispensable. Even now, the FFT is being computed a jillion times a day all across the planet, on mobile phones, satellites, modems, computers, and ASICs.

Dennis Ritchie (September 9, 1941 – c. October 12, 2011) – inventor of Unix and C Programming Language died in October 2011, eclipsed by the passing of Steve Jobs the week before. There are numerous industry articles on the significance of Dennis Ritchie on the success of Steve Jobs (here) and (here). Just about the entire internet runs or was built using descendants of Unix and C.

Keith Emerson (2 November 1944 – 11 March 2016) – around the same time that David Bowie, Prince and other rock icons expired, the English progressive band member of Emerson, Lake and Palmer died by suicide. Emerson pioneered the use of the synthesizer in music and influenced rock, classical and jazz. But few noticed his tragic passing.

Rudolf Kalman (May 19, 1930 – July 2, 2016) – A  story of Rudolf Kalman passing last July 2016 was published on MIT Technology Review (here).  Since I studied signal processing and stochastic systems, I was familiar with Kalman filtering having taken an entire semester on it.