Remembering My Friend, Norm Abramson

The passing of Norm Abramson this week is a great loss to the community who worked with Norm over many years. I first became aware of Norm’s work while a PhD student at MIT years ago.

Many people are unaware of his strong contributions in those early days of communication and information theory; indeed, the book he published, “Information Theory and Coding,” in 1963, was beautifully written and I used it in courses I taught at UCLA.

Norm was a man of many, many talents, and he is most remembered for co-founding ALOHAnet based on the ALOHA access protocol. The technology was insightful, brilliant, and ushered in the broad field of simple wireless multi-access communication with many powerful variants in use today. In addition to an earlier meeting where he presented the ALOHA access protocol, Norm came to an ARPA meeting in the 1970s and introduced a new access method that my student, Fouad Tobagi, and I then analyzed and named Carrier Sense Multiple Access (CSMA). CSMA and its variants are still in use today and are the basis for Ethernet’s CSMA/CD developed by Bob Metcalfe.

Norm was a most generous and kind colleague. I still remember when he gave lectures about his ALOHA work in Canada and James Martin was in the audience. James Martin then preemptively wrote a book containing Norm’s material (which was a reasonably good book) and Norm was perfectly OK with that; I was not. This is a big loss. I will miss him.

Len Kleinrock


December 6, 2020