Remembering Richard Crandall (1947--2012)

Richard Crandall liked to call himself a “computationalist”. For though he was trained in physics (and served for many years as a physics professor at Reed College), computation was at the center of his life. He used it in physics, in engineering, in mathematics, in biology. . . and in technology. He was a pioneer in experimental mathematics, and was associated for many years with Apple and with Steve Jobs, and was proud of having invented “at least 5 algorithms used in the iPhone”. He was also an extremely early adopter of Mathematica, and a well-known figure in the Mathematica community. And when he died just before Christmas at the age of 64 he was hard at work on his latest, rather different, project: an “intellectual biography” of Steve Jobs that I had suggested he call “Scientist to Mr. Jobs”. I first met Richard Crandall in 1987, when I was developing Mathematica, and he was Chief Scientist at Steve Jobs’s company NeXT. Richard had pioneered using Pascal on Macintoshes to teach scientific computing. But as soon as he saw Mathematica, he immediately adopted it, and for a quarter of a century used it to produce a wonderful range of discoveries and inventions. He also contributed greatly to Mathematica and its usage. Indeed, even before Mathematica 1.0 in 1988, he insisted on visiting our company to contribute his expertise in numerical evaluation of special functions (his favorites were polylogarithms and zeta-like functions). And then, after the NeXT computer was released, he wrote what may have been the first-ever Mathematica-based app: a “supercalculator” named Gourmet that he said “eats other calculators for breakfast”. A couple of years later he wrote a book entitled Mathematica for the Sciences, that pioneered the use of Mathematica programs as a form of exposition. Over the years, I interacted with Richard about a great many things. Usually it would start with a “call me” message. And I would get on the phone, never knowing what to expect. And Richard would be talking about his latest result in number theory. Or the latest Apple GPU. Or his models of flu epidemiology. Or the importance of running Mathematica on iOS. Or a new way to multiply very long integers. Or his latest achievements in image processing. Or a way to reconstruct fractal brain geometries. Richard made contributions—from highly theoretical to highly practical—to a wide range of fields. He was always a little too original to be in the mainstream, with the result that there are few fields where he is widely known. In recent years, however, he was beginning to be recognized for his pioneering work in experimental mathematics, particularly as applied to primes and functions related to them. But he always knew that his work with the greatest immediate significance for the world at large was what he did for Apple behind closed doors. Richard was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1947. His father was an actuary who became a sought-after expert witness on complex corporate insurance-fraud cases, and who, Richard told me, taught him “an absolute lack of fear of large numbers”. Richard grew up in Los Angeles, studying first at Caltech (where he encountered Richard Feynman), then at Reed College in Oregon. From there he went to MIT, where he studied the mathematical physics of high-energy particle scattering (Regge theory), and got his PhD in 1973. On the side he became an electronics entrepreneur, working particularly on security systems, and inventing (and patenting) a new type of operational amplifier and a new form of alarm system. After his PhD these efforts led him to New York City, where he designed a computerized fire safety and energy control system used in skyscrapers. As a hobby he worked on quantum physics and number theory—and after moving back to Oregon to work for an electronics company there, he was hired in 1978 at Reed College as a physics professor. Steve Jobs had ended his short stay at Reed some years earlier, but through his effort to get Reed computerized, Richard got connected to him, and began a relationship that would last the rest of Steve’s life. I don’t know even a fraction of what Richard worked on for NeXT and Apple. For a while he was Apple’s Chief Cryptographer—notably inventing a fast form of elliptic curve encryption. And later on, he was also involved in compression, image processing, touch detection, and many other things. Through most of this, Richard continued as a practicing physics professor. Early on, he won awards for creating minimal physics experiments (“measure the speed of light on a tabletop with $10 of equipment”). By the mid-1980s,