Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Welcome to Joe's blog:

Dear all,

This blogsite is in memory of Joe Oliger.

Joe passed away on August 28 of this year. He was diagonised with cancer in 2004, and died soon after the cancer spread to the pancreas.

Joe did not want a memorial service, but I hope you will use this blogsite to write down thoughts about Joe.

A small way to celebrate his life and what he meant to us.

Best wishes,

Note: If you are having troubles posting comments,
you may also email your comments to me at
margot.gerritsen@stanford.edu and I will post them for you.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Rob Schreiber:

When I was a struggling assistant professor at Stanford, Joe was a great friend, a mentor, and a supporter. He helped with teaching, he helped with life, and he spoke up for my research. A word from Joe in the right place made it possible for me to get my first research contract with ONR. His support meant a lot to me as I changed directions toward the then fairly new field of parallel scientific computing.

Joe and his sons were keen soccer players, and he organized some informal matches for the numerical analysis group. They were so enjoyable that he and I were soon playing on the same team in thePalo Alto Adult Soccer League. I'm still at it, refereeing, some 26 years later.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Bertil Gustafsson:

There was a strong mathematical/numerical group at NCAR in Boulder in the late sixties, with Joe in a leading role. I came there in 1969 to work for a year. We had sent a big box of luggage by boat from Sweden, and I had difficulties finding out where it had ended up. Joe was the one who immediately helped me investigating the case, and he was one of those who gave me a strong appreciation of the American way of being so helpful.

This nice impression of the American people has followed me ever since. Joe and I had a lot of fun together, both in the professional work and in private. It continued over the years, both in Sweden and in USA. I enjoyed his hospitality, his eminent cooking, and I had good help from his talent in practical work, like carpentry.

Joe was a very tolerant man with an unusual integrity, always avoiding to speak in a negative manner about other people. He was incredibly strong, both physically and mentally. In his early years he was a sprinter at national top level. He was a rock climber, where his mental strength was extremely useful. He probably didn't even know what fear was. Later in life he switched to long distance running. I stayed at his house in Palo Alto over a weekend, and there was a 10K race Sunday morning near Fremont. Joe went up very calmly in the morning, but didn't care for any breakfast. Instead he had a cup of black coffee and a cigarette, went to Fremont, and ran the 10K in 41 minutes in 85 degrees heat.He often went cross country skiing in the California mountains, and sometimes the darkness fell when he was far away. Then he just dug himself a hole in the ten feet snow, and slept soundly in it over night.

Joe was a remarkable man. It is certainly very sad that I will not be able to see him anymore.

Bertil Gustafsson

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Paul Swarztrauber:

Remembering Joe ... by Paul Swarztrauber 12-28-05

Joe and I shared an office in the very early days of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).This would have been about 40 years ago when NCAR was in temporary offices at the corner of Marine and 30th Streets. He would have been in his early twenties and about 5 years younger than I. We hit it off immediately.

This was in our pre-degree days and we were programming on state-of-the-art computers. Joe was creative and would devise computer solutions that would only later appear in the literature. He was simply too busy to publish or perhaps more accurately, unaware that his work was publishable. I recall him describing a technique that was later known as the box sort.

It was Joe's ingenious work that caught the eye of the well known mathematician Heinz Kreiss who mentored Joe all the way through his PhD at Uppsala University. Joe then obtained a position at Stanford but nevertheless maintained his connection to NCAR for many years, primarily as a highly contributing member of the Computing Advisory Panel.

Throughout our careers, Joe and I would often attend the same meetings and usually meet at least for a dinner. I looked forward to those dinners. We lost touch in the later years.

Returning to the early years at NCAR; I was very fascinated by the stories he would tell. I remember the following three:

As a youth, he and some friends would regularly overturn an outhouse that was near the train tracks. The farmer was understandably upset by this and supposedly solved his problem by building a brick outhouse. However Joe and his friends were evidently quite determined. They wrapped a cable around the "house" and leveled it by hooking it to a passing freight train.

Joe was an accomplished technical climber. He and a friend climbed the Golden Gate Bridge one night. Following their descent they were immediately confronted by the authorities. This was puzzling to Joe until it was explained that someone had seen their legs dangling in front of the huge light that they were sitting on the top of the tower.
Joe was required to keep the authorities advised of his location and did so by mailing postcards with pictures of famous bridges.

Joe and a friend were doing a technical climb in Boulder Canyon when his partner accidentally dislodged a boulder the size of a "refrigerator". The partner died in the accident but Joe was spared because the boulder severed the rope that connected them.

Joe was unique among men I have known. He had enormous grit and seemed almost oblivious to adversity in the sense it would not defeat or even slow him. He was able to get to the heart of a problem which he would either resolve or move on. His choice not to seek treatment is entirely consistent with the Joe that I knew. He was a remarkable man for whom I have great respect and admiration.
Chris Fraley:

After many years, my appreciation for Joe's wisdom and tact is still growing. His lack of arrogance was refreshing and remains inspirational.Besides publications and mentoring, Joe's contributions include professionalism, diplomatic skills, and good will. I don't believe that he has been adequately acknowledged, but then he didn't seek the kind of recognition that the profession tends to give.

For some time now I've been thinking that I'd like build a Babylonian wind tower in my house like the one he had in his. Now I won't be able to turn to Joe for advice if I ever get around to it...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Michael Heath:

I have many fond memories of Joe, but no anecdote quite as
"striking" as Michael Overton's. I agree with Michael that Joe's role as
sole mentor for the NA students during our first year at
Stanford (Michael and I entered the same year) was especially
important in getting our grad student careers off to a good start.
I didn't really think of this at the time, but Joe was not long out of
graduate school himself at that point, and he showed remarkable
maturity to lead the group so effectively at such an early stage of
his own career. I recall many enjoyable evenings at Joe and
Debby's place, as well as NA lunches, etc.

One indication of Joe's thoughtfulness and caring for students is
that during my second year at Stanford, Mona and I were married
in Virginia during the Christmas break (as Michael will well
remember, having been part of the wedding), and Joe was kind
enough to meet us at the SFO airport upon our return --- you
don't see a lot of professors doing that for their students these
days. Moreover, Joe and Debby gave a reception for Mona and
me in honor of our marriage, which seemed way beyond the call
of duty, but very much appreciated by us and very much in
character for Joe.
Andrew Stuart:

I first met Joe when visiting NASA Ames in 1991, where RIACS was located when he was Director. On the first meeting I found him inscrutable. I joined the faculty at Stanford, in Computer Science, in 1992, and got to know Joe a little better. I remember sitting with him soon after arriving,over the road from Margaret Jacks Hall, under the trees, with tiny caterpillars falling on and around us. To the extent that I was able to concentrate in this strange rain, I remember that he told me his views ofthe good and the bad of life in California and Stanford. Professionally he was quietly very supportive. In particular he backed all my plans for minor curriculum reform in Numerical Analysis, and adapted his own teaching schedule to help me develop mine. I was always grateful for this.

He never seemed entirely comfortable at Stanford in the time I was there. I hope that he found greater comfort in retirement.
Wei-Pai Tang:

Joe's enthusiastic attitude was infectious. So many of his outstanding students from Stanford were attracted and made distinguished careers later. Joe also had a big heart to help the students in difficulties. I was one of them. Here are the first two paragraphs from the acknowledgement of my thesis that I would like share with you:

The march leading to my Ph.D. has been long and difficult, though on its path I have also found happiness and fulfillment. There is a long list of individuals who have helped me in many ways. I want to thank them for what they have given me.I am deeply indebted to Professor Joseph Oliger for providing me guidance and support through my years at Stanford the most valuable lesson I learned from him is not to just follow where the path may lead, but to go where there is no path. During the crises of my academic life, his confidence in me and his generous support have made this thesis possible. Now, I am very proud of saying: I am another new member of the large academic Oliger “family”.
Jim Lambers:

I was one of Joe's last students, before Gene Golub took over as my adviser upon Joe's retirement. One thing in particular that I admired about him was his ability to recognize potential new applications for existing ideas, including those from outside of computational mathematics. My work with him originated from a purely analytical paper by Charles Fefferman on the Uncertainty Principle. Joe believed that the ideas in this paper could be useful for computational methods. This readiness to examine old ideas in a new light set an example for me to follow.

I have been thinking that a nice way to honor Joe's memory would be a survey paper that summarizes not only his work, but also what has emerged from it, through the work of his students. I would be interested in hearing any thoughts about this.
Margot Gerritsen:

Dear all,

I was one of Joe's last students. He had already retired partly at that time, but we did share some wonderful times on the boat, skiing and rock climbing. He taught me in his own way how to be confident that things work out one way or another. I did not quite believe him that time I was stuck half way up a 5.9 rock the first time I ever climbed. But, he just rolled a cigarette, sat down and called up to me "Take your time, I'm in no hurry".

I'm sorry I did not try harder to keep in touch with Joe. He had a great heart, and I will miss him.Margot
Tony Chan:

First time I use a "blog" and it is a sad occasion. The last time I saw Joe was probably 10 years ago when he was still at Stanford. We took a long walk together. He already knew he would be retiring and move to the Sierras.So many memories about Joe!I still remember when I first met Joe in 1973-1974 at Serra House, when I was a new graduate student, and he was a visitor from Uppsala. I remember Joe's office next to the seminar room and the kitchen. I remember "baby sitting" Nicholas and Jason when Joe and Debbie took a long trip to Sweden. Of course, who can forget the numerous parties at the Oligers!!! He was particularly proud of his Japanese style smoker. Joe was a great carpenter/builder. Many of us remember he led the effort and built the trellis of Serra House --- the photos are at Mike Heath's homepage. His boat shared with Jon Clarebout. The little record book he had showing he was the first to have climbed one of the peaks in the Rockies.

My last main professional interaction with Joe was when he was Director of RIACS and I was a frequent visitor.Joe had a great group of PhD students in my era and most of us are still in the math/cs profession and do see each other frequently. In fact, 3 of us (Nick, Marsha and I) saw each other at the SIAM HQ as recently as last Saturday (12/9/05) --- as members of SIAM's Board of Trustees. Joe had a great influence on each of us and we'll remember him fondly forever.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Michael Overton:

I have very fond memores of Joe Oliger. He and his wife Debbie were very kind to me when I was a graduate student, especially my first year, when everything was still so strange and he was the only NA professor at Serra House (Gene was away on sabbatical).

His kindness and encouragement were certainly big factors in my completing that first year successfully and feeling ready ready to go on.... Later, in the summer of 1982, when I stayed in the same house as Marsha and Jonathan next door to Joe and Debbie, I had some great times with them.
One time, they went away and I drove Nick and Jason up to San Francisco in the Oligers' Volvo station wagon for a day in the city ending with dropping them off at the bus station where they were catching an overnight bus to summer camp. The three of us had a great time but the day ended very dramatically when I realized I had locked the keys in the car and we did not have much time before being due at the bus station - and Nick and Jason's stuff was all in the car! There happened to be a security guard working by the car and when he saw our quandary he offered to break the window for us - there was no time to wait for AAA! His first attempt failed so he returned with a sledgehammer: BANG!, the window was history. Nick and Jason were very impressed and so was Joe when he returned from the trip and I told him the story!Meanwhile Rob had kindly helped me replace the window - sort of! I had screwed up by buying the wrong part but Joe didn't care -he thought the story was so great! Anyway, that's what he let me think and I think it was true.

Joe was one of the kindest and gentlest people I ever met. I was very sorry not to see him much in the last 20 years, but I have nothing but fond memories of him.

Michael Overton