3D Robotics

Howard Gordon, RIP

Very sad news: our friend and community member Howard Gordon died of a sudden heart attack on July 20th, at age 57. He was an inspiration and a mentor to me, and was best known to this community as the creator of the YARB robotic blimp and the Surveyor Blackfin-powered robotic rover.

Howard manned the booth at Maker Faire with me for two years, and was the nicest, most patient person you could meet. He had had early success in the technology industry (see obituary below) and this had allowed him to semi-retire in a beautiful part of the world on the Pacific coast south of San Francisco and to focus on what he loved best: his family, surfing and robotics. As tragic as his death was, at least it was doing what he loved: surfing.

Here's the obituary from his local newspaper:

"San Luis Obispo entrepreneur Howard Gordon, a highly regarded innovator known for revolutionizing Internet information processing and robotics, died of a heart attack July 20 at French Hospital Medical Center after surfing at Pismo Beach. He was 57.

According to family, friends and associates, Gordon lived a life propelled by vigorous curiosity and gusto and yet was low-key and unassuming in the face of some of his culture-altering Internet contributions.

Gordon was among the first innovators who made streaming a video or song over the Internet possible when he championed software-based compression for images and audio — MP3.

Want to attach and send a photo on the Internet? It was Gordon and his company, Xing Technology, that wrote very fast JPEG compression software for personal computers in the 1990s. Before Xing, nearly everyone thought special devices were needed to accomplish such data compression.

A graduate of UCLA with degrees in math and music, Gordon played classical piano, flute and guitar, excelled in dressage and was an avid surfer, skateboarder and champion sailboat racer.

Jeff Buckingham, president of Blue Rooster, a San Luis-based telecommunications company, recalled a man “who definitely didn’t stay inside the box. It was a lot of fun watching him with all of his ideas flying around.”

Amy Kardel of Clever Ducks, a computer networking services company in San Luis Obispo, remembered Gordon as “absolutely brilliant and just the neatest guy.”

Born Oct. 10, 1952, in Montebello, east of Los Angeles, and raised in Pomona, Gordon’s interest in computers goes back at least 40 years, long-time friend and collaborator Eric Redemann said.

While the two were college roommates at UC San Diego in the early 1970s, Redemann recalled, Gordon took a summer job on campus that entailed making a technical, animated film using the university’s number-crunching computer center.

Prior to microprocessors, computer centers at that time were usually huge buildings holding vast banks of computers with long waiting lists for users.

Redemann said Gordon figured he could get exclusive time on the computers if he worked all weekend and let the other students have access during the week.

“So he did the summer job on weekends, which was something like 40 days of work in six all-nighters,” Redemann said, “got good marks for his work and was able to surf and play music during the rest of the week.”

It was also during this time that, with his father, Gordon developed computer models and playing strategies for blackjack. He developed computer-based trading models dealing with stock options and financial futures for the Wall Street firm of the then-Shearson Lehman Brothers and large-scale computerized telephone systems using microprocessors.

By 1982, he founded Network Research Corp., a computer-networking firm. He sold that company four years later and — with a love for dressage — founded Classical Horseman, a mail-order business dealing with dressage training videos. In the interim, he and wife Heidi Carr moved from Malibu to Arroyo Grande, where he based the business.

Gordon founded Xing in 1991 as a robotics and video tracking system company. Before selling the firm in 1997, his company was a leader in the Internet-altering software of JPEGs and MPEGs, allowing images to be compressed and sent online.

Technology was but one facet of Gordon’s life. Jack Smith recalled meeting him one weekend in 2001 (the same year Gordon and Jay Crum set the Transpac record for double-handed sailing from California to Hawaii) while Smith was staging the International Slalom Skateboard Races in Morro Bay.

With typical Gordon brio, he jumped into the sport. Under Smith’s initial direction, Gordon eventually partnered with skateboard legend Bobby Turner and co-founded Turner Downhill. Under Gordon’s direction, the company completely revamped competitive downhill skateboarding by redesigning boards and wheels that dominated world championship racing.

One of his greatest sources of pride in this venture is that his daughter Lauren — now 21 and a geological engineering student at the University of Montana — and son Dylan — now 18 and a visual journalism major at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara — both became world champion slalom skateboard racers several years in a row — traveling to events throughout the United States and Switzerland.

“He was one of the smartest guys I’ve ever known,” Smith said. “Yet, with all he accomplished, he was also one of the most down-to-earth; a Polo shirt and shorts were his uniform. He enjoyed life to the fullest.”

For the past 12 years, Gordon owned and operated Surveyor Corp. from the family’s La Lomita Ranch in Edna Valley.

Surveyor Corp. is a high-tech company that deals with one of Gordon’s abiding loves: robotics and their applications. Toward that end, his curiosity and gusto were directed toward taking humans past what we know now.

“It’s sometimes hard to pinpoint a man’s impact on his community,” said Tim Williams, owner of Digital West of San Luis Obispo. “When considering Howard Gordon, it’s much more visible. His contribution to the technology world was global and, in many ways, he put San Luis Obispo on the map. His leadership drew the attention of giants in the tech industry, and he did so without limitations here in San Luis Obispo County.

“It wasn’t easy,” Williams added, “to be a major technology player from this somewhat remote region, but the very idea of doing more with less was part of the concept behind every technology application that Gordon built.”

“He had a reputation for creating and building companies and being able to sell them,” Kardel added. “But at the heart of Howard Gordon, he was a good guy who cared about what really matters — not just the integrity of products but also his family and community.”

Gordon is survived by his wife, Heidi Carr, of San Luis Obispo; daughter, Lauren Gordon, and son, Dylan Gordon; and brother, Mitchell Gordon, of Northern California.

No memorial services are planned.

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  • To the attention Howard's relative who posted above that the family wanted to continue the Surveyor Business... Dec. 15, a friend of mine ordered a robot from Surveyor Corp. He has not received anything and tried to contact you by phone, email, twitter, etc., unsuccessfully. Myself, I wanted to place an order for the surveyor stereo vision system; but I guess I'm gonna wait to see if the company actually operates. Could you please update us on this. Has anybody experienced the same issue lately? I mean, the website of the company is still working, we can place orders through Paypal, but nothing comes in and it is impossible to talk to anyone on the phone or by email. Thanks for your help with this.

    Howard Gordon Comment by Howard Gordon on August 18, 2010 at 11:27am
    It is the family's intention to continue the Surveyor business and Howard's vision. Products are still being built and shipped. Development of new items continues. He was a good friend of many talents.
  • I was privileged to review Howard's Surveyor for Robot magazine and was constantly awed by his patience in explaining topics that were tough for me to grasp. In the end I had a good layman's grasp of most of the bot's capabilities and a thorough respect for Howard's capabilities, vision and promise. Despite knowing Howard only through many emails and a few phone conversations, I felt a kinship that is hard to explain. We had hoped to collaborate on some small projects with the robot but sadly that will no longer happen. His passing has left a large gap in this aspect of my life. My thoughts are with his family.
  • It is the family's intention to continue the Surveyor business and Howard's vision. Products are still being built and shipped. Development of new items continues. He was a good friend of many talents.
  • May God bless his Soul and give him a better treatment Up There !
  • We used Howard's stuff on a few UAV projects at Continental Controls. He helped us out quite a bit. Sad to see him go.
  • Shame - hate to see a smart guy go!
  • Sounds like a man that contributed a great deal and I would have most certainly enjoyed meeting.
    My condolences to his family and friends. RIP.
  • Admin
    it was the only player around that used to work and every seem to have it.
  • Seem to recall trying Xing MPEG encoder for a 16 bit Mac in 1995. A 16 bit Mac with 4MB RAM & 40MB was $1300 in those days & took 8 hours to encode a 30 second 320x240 video. Those were heady days in desktop video when everyone else was focused on e-commerce. No-one thought the internet would ever be fast enough to transport video so it was really career sacrificing to work on video. Hopefully Ning will last forever & keep his legacy around.
  • Admin
    Xing brings good memories. He will be missed . RIP :(
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