Photo: Mark Dahmke CC-BY-SA 4.0

In Memory of

John H. Wharton

Self-described gadfly of Silicon Valley, Reverse Engineer, Intel 8051 architect, Stanford Lecturer, Expert Witness, author & famous shower taker

Celebratory Gathering

A Celebration of John's Life was held on:

Saturday, December 8th

Starts at 2:00 p.m.

Comments at 3:00 p.m.

at the Alpine Inn Beer Garden,
aka Rossotti's, aka Zott's.

3915 Alpine Road 

Portola Valley, CA 94028 

This video was captured and produced by Roberto Miller of Pure Grain Digital Productions, and made possible by Nancy Blachman, founder of the Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival.  


After receiving an invitation from John Wharton to attend AMW, Roberto presented his short film Mail Bonding (the world's first fully digital film) at AMW in 1995. 


Nancy has been an AMW attendee and participant off and on since 1989, and she is current Chair of Gathering 4 Gardner (G4G). Like AMW, G4G is a gathering that stimulates curiosity and the playful exchange of ideas - and you are invited to nominate yourself or others who would enrich the G4G community.

AMW John H. Wharton Memorial Scholarship Fund 

In lieu of flowers, we are establishing a scholarship fund in John's name to help attendees enjoy the Asilomar Microcomputer Workshop to which John gave so much of his time.

September 21, 1954 - November 14, 2018

John Harrison Wharton

A Brief Biography

John was born September 21, 1954, one of 4 bothers. He passed away on November 14, 2018 in Redwood City, California. He grew up in the Washington D.C. area and later attended Yale and then Northwestern University where he graduated in 1976 with a BS in Electrical Engineering and a MS in Computer Science in 1977.

He soon found a new home in Silicon Valley and lived in Palo Alto. John was an accomplished engineer and worked for Intel Corporation. He was the architect of the instruction set of the MCS-51, aka the 8051, and Intel's highest volume microprocessor. John was thus the creator of one of the world's most popular computer command sets, and was equally renowned for his reverse engineering skills. 

He won a Porsche 944 in a design competition that SEEQ Technology sponsored. He was often sought as an expert witness and loved to take apart things to learn how they were built.

He was an active organizer of the Asilomar Microcomputer Workshop. He first attended and spoke at AMW in 1980, first chaired a session in 1983, was General Chair from 1985-1997, and Program Chair from 1999-2017. In 1994, he originated the novel idea of taking group photos from space via a former Soviet spy satellite. A 1999 New York Times story described John as having "a Zelig-like presence," and his bereft friends considered him “the heart of the Asilomar Workshop.”

With Dennis Allison, John coordinated Stanford University's EE380 course from 1989-2004. In 1996 he appeared in a notorious shower scene on Late Night with David Letterman.
John's passions included:

  • Film Festivals

  • Books

  • Photography

  • Collecting Space Junk

Links to other information on the internet about John:

John Wharton RIP, DSHR's Blog

Influential Valley gadfly and Intel 8051architect John Wharton has died, The Register

Reinvent the Wheel? This Software Engineer Deconstructs It,

The New York Times

The Legacy of Gary Kildall: IEEE Milestone Plaque Dedication

CP/M IEEE Milestone, YouTube 


Chip Maker's Competing Creeds, The New York Times

My Fiji Souvenirs: Shells, Driftwood, Space Debris . . ., The New York Times

Bay Area Man Relives Time He Disrobed on Late Show with David Letterman, CBS, San Francisco

Computer Systems Laboratory Colloquium , Stanford University

Stanford EE Computer Systems Celebration, Stanford University 

Designing Reliable Software for Automotive Applications, Intel Corp

US Patent 6,643,755 B2 Cyclically Sequential Memory Prefectch, 

US Patent 6,799,264 B2 Memory Accelerator for ARM Processor Pre-fetching Multiple Instructions from Sequential Memory Partitions

US Patent 7,290,119 B2 Memory Accelerator with Two Instruction set Fetch Path to Prefetch Second Set While Executing First Set of Numbers of Instructions in Access Delay to Instruction Cycle Ration

Sixth Annual Asilomar Microcomputer Workshop Program, 1980

Intel 8051 Microprocessor Oral History, Computer History Museum

Obituary, San Jose Mercury News

John H Wharton, Wikipedia

Please share your memories of John at our blog here.


In Memory of John H. Wharton, webpage by Michael Takamoto & Michelle Aden