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Originally published May 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 13, 2008 at 9:41 AM

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Philip Poth Jr., computer whiz, was also a talented host, musician

Seattle computer whiz Philip Poth Jr. earned his living by pioneering ways to put newfangled technologies to good use. But those who knew...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle computer whiz Philip Poth Jr. earned his living by pioneering ways to put newfangled technologies to good use. But those who knew him best say that crafting hardware and software were just a few of his abundant talents.

He also was a touring banjo player; science-project tinkerer and co-host of parties in his family's Capitol Hill home. He was dubbed legendary by his social circle of musicians, engineers, software developers and people who just enjoy thinking.

"He loved the thrill of solving a problem or making something work better. That was what turned him on," said son Philip Poth III.

Mr. Poth, a fourth-generation Seattleite, died May 5 in his sleep, of heart failure. He was 65, and in the process of heeding his wife's plea to "do something" about the three rooms he'd crammed with computer parts, his grown children said.

He attended St. Joseph School, Seattle Prep and the University of Washington, where he majored in mathematics. The banjo was a natural fit for a mathematician, with its emphasis on precision and technique, his son said.

In the 1960s, his love of bluegrass music took him around the country to play with folk bands, including The Willow Creek Ramblers, which played shows at the Blue Moon Tavern, J&M Cafe and the Paramount Theatre.

Mr. Poth also ran Poth Manufacturing, south of the old Kingdome, where in the 1970s his interest in computers and robotics prompted him to automate many woodworking machines. The rise of microprocessor technology led to other collaborations and inventions, including a five-axis carving machine considered one of the world's most advanced.

He holds three U.S. patents on computer numerical control (CNC) systems, which guide machine tools around the world in the aerospace, woodworking, plastics, medical and defense industries, according to his longtime employer, Thermwood Corp.

Mr. Poth's son remembers growing up in an era when computers were brand-new and his father spent hours with colleagues experimenting, often to the bleep of an analog printer and the buzz of fans to cool the giant machines.

Mr. Poth was a man undaunted by problems. Fellow musician, friend and local trial lawyer Paul Gillingham remembers how Mr. Poth rigged a tape recorder and tied a string around his foot so that he could modulate the pace of banjo riffs on the recordings to gradually hone his own style. Local artist Trimpin recalled how Mr. Poth's knowledge of both music and technology enabled him to help build an automated guitar installation at Seattle's Experience Music Project.

Mr. Poth is survived by his wife of nearly 40 years, Sue; daughter Katie of Seattle; son Philip of Santa Monica, Calif.; and two grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Joseph Church, 732 18th Ave. E. A reception will follow at the Seattle Tennis Club.

Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618 or kgaudette@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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