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Tech luminaries we lost in 2012

Some of these individuals shaped the technology industry through their words, others through their actions. All 13 of them left indelible marks that have educated and inspired tech enthusiasts everywhere.

By Kevin Fogarty
December 26, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Anyone hoping that the important events in the tech world would get their due in global headlines was in for a disappointment in 2012. In an information environment so saturated with news about the presidential election and other events, there was little opportunity to note the passing of a few aging technologists, especially if, as was true of a surprising number of those who left us in 2012, their contributions weren't fully appreciated even during their lifetimes.

Google, for example, didn't invent computer-based search; David Waltz did. And Jack Tramiel may have done more to launch the PC revolution than Steve Jobs or Bill Gates did, but no one makes posters or bobbleheads of him.

Everyone knows that Sally Ride used a space shuttle to shatter the glass ceiling, that Neil Armstrong left footprints on ground that everyone could see but none could touch and that Ray Bradbury turned writing about the future into literature and, sometimes, poetry.

Not as many know that Bernard Lovell learned how to listen to the universe whispering about its own birth or that Robert Ledley showed how to see what people were really made of without cutting them open first.

Let's take a moment to note the loss of these (mostly) modest inventors, adventurers and market-makers and remember their accomplishments.

Steve Appleton

Daredevil kept U.S. in microprocessor industry

March 1960 – February 2012

Geek lives aren't supposed to be exciting; not really. Sure, techies can be superstars in the lab, or standouts among garage tinkerers and basement inventors. Hanging with them is supposed to be awkward, not terrifying. Geeks dont typically play professional tennis, race motorcycles and cars on- and off-road, perform as stunt pilots at local air shows or fly their personal 1950s-era fighter jets so fast and low that they set Idaho fields afire with the heat from their afterburners.

Appleton receives the Semiconductor Industry Association's Noyce Award.

But then, they're not supposed to start their careers on a semiconductor-factory production line -- the night shift -- and rise to become a company president barely a decade out of college, either.

Steve Appleton did all that and led flash-memory maker Micron Technology Inc. through 18 years of cutthroat competition that left Micron the only major memory chip maker to survive in the U.S. Analysts criticized him for taking personal risks, but Appleton told interviewers the boom-and-bust nature of the semiconductor industry was more hazardous than all his daredevil activities.

Keeping Micron alive and manufacturing in the U.S. might have been his most unlikely achievement, but he had plenty of others during his time at Micron -- enough for the Semiconductor Industry Association to honor him with its top award.

Appleton was killed less than four months later, after problems with his home-built Lancair IV-PT turboprop caused him to abort takeoff and ultimately crash between two runways at Boise Airport. Appleton was 51, married, with four children.

"I'm obviously an aggressive person," The Wall Street Journal quoted Appleton as saying in 2006. "It is kind of a cliché, but I'd rather die living than die dying."

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