Wednesday, April 4, 2007

And Another One Bites the Dust…
An Older But Wiser Gopher, Mark McCahill, Hits the Trail

From today’s Star-Tribune:

Duke lures U computer expert away
Mark McCahill grew impatient with the ups and downs of public funding.

By Steve Alexander, Star Tribune

Mark McCahill, a researcher who helped make the Internet more usable in its early days, is leaving the University of Minnesota for Duke University because the private school can better fund his computer research.

"The U of M needs to do well with the Legislature to get research funds, and it's been up and down," McCahill said. Overall, state funding for the university has declined significantly since he was a chemistry student in the late 1970s, he said.

"We're sorry to see him go, but his offer from Duke is a great opportunity, and he'll continue to be a constructive force in higher education," said university spokesman Daniel Wolter. "Many of his frustrations are understandable, as these haven't been easy times." The U has been forced to divert its available funds to other computer projects, such as upgrading its financial systems, he said.

That would be PeopleSoft and Forms Nirvana?

Now an assistant director in the U's academic and distributed computing services with no teaching duties, McCahill says his new title will be "architect of 3-D learning and collaborative systems." He will start at Duke, in Durham, N.C., later this month.

It isn't the first time he has done cutting-edge computer research. In the early 1990s he helped develop the Gopher server, an early gateway to the Internet that made it easy to search for information by typing in text.

Gopher lost out to the World Wide Web (www for short) in 1994 because Gopher dealt only in information, while the Web combined information and advertising, McCahill said. A budget crunch worsened the situation because it forced the university to sell Gopher software to corporations, while the competing World Wide Web software was being given away.

"If we had had more resources, I think we could have given the Web guys a run for it," McCahill said. "But we'll never know."

"There have been fascinating technical challenges and great people to work with at the U of M," McCahill said. "But as you get older you get less patient about wanting to get important things done. You realize there's only so much time left in your work life."

As Mr.Bonzo has pointed out before, if we can’t keep the good people we’ve got, how are we ever going to become one of the three top public research universities in the world?

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