Wednesday 5 December 2012

The passing of Kohei Honda. A great scientist and a great man

I met Kohei (and Nobuko) through Alexis Richardson who pioneered work on messaging with AMQP. Alexis was a pi-calculus guy as was I and he knew both Kohei and Nobuko (Kohei’s wife). On the other hand I knew Professor Robin Milner quite well, he was my mentor. That all happened in 2002, some 10 years ago now. Kohei joined W3C along with Nobuko and Robin as invited experts to ensure that WS-CDL, the basis of Testable Architecture, Savara and so many things that we take for granted. All based around pi-calculus for which we all owe Robin Milner a huge debt. But pi was always hard to understand except for the gifted mathematician. Kohei with a fellow researcher, Vasco Vasconselas, came up with an elegant addendum to pi called sessions and so began work on session typing. This work, above all else, informed WS-CDL, Savara, Testable Architecture and many others as to how to use pi-calculus so as to gain practical benefits. Indeed it is the core of WS-CDL in it’s search to understand behaviors over a distributed system.

That Kohei became an invited expert on ISO’s UNIFY project to unify messaging standards for financial information exchange and an invited expert to the Japanese banking system all of which demonstrated that Kohei really understood how academia could support business.

Kohei was a picture of enthusiasm with a vision and a feel for aesthetic qualities in all that he did. This was never more apparent than his work on session types and scribble (his language that has become known as son of WS-CDL) applied to business problems.

I have been so lucky to have had the chance to work with Kohei over a long period. I have been even luckier in being able to introduce him to some other great people of whom Dr Bippin Makoond is one along with Matthew Arnott from the Tsunami early warning project in the USA, to Matthew Rawling CTO at UBS and chair of UNIFY, Dr Gary Brown at Redhat (my long time friend and colleague) to all my old colleagues in W3C. Spreading his enthusiasm and explaining complex things in easy ways was a gift that few of us have but that Kohei had in spades.

I was humble and grateful to know him as a colleague and as a friend. He was gentle with the heart of a giant and the mind of a great scientist. His work will stand the test of time and his presence will, for this soul, be forever there.

I shall miss him greatly and my heart and support goes out to Nobuko and Kohei’s wider family for their loss.