Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Mr. Bonzo Blows It
Apologies to the Pioneer Press

We are lucky in GemCities to have two good newspapers, the Star-Tribune (Minneapolis) and the Pioneer Press (St. Paul).

Actually the Pioneer Press beat the Strib and the Daily to the punch on reporting the McCahill story and part of their account is given below. Way to go Pioneer Press! (Mr. Bonzo thanks a friend for pointing this out.)

University Of Minnesota / Internet pioneer making move to Duke faculty
U researcher helped create Gopher system and early home e-mail


Pioneer Press

Article Last Updated:04/02/2007 11:08:35 AM CDT

He coined the term "surfing the Internet." His research helped build the modern Web, search engines and e-mail. But after three decades at the University of Minnesota, world-renowned technology expert Mark McCahill is leaving.

Seeking a fresh challenge but also frustrated by internal issues at the U and erratic public support for higher education, McCahill says he's headed for North Carolina's Duke University, where he will help fashion the next generation of computer networks and 3-D "virtual reality" systems for the Web.

While no researcher is indispensable, McCahill's exit is a blow to the U. He'd been a lifer at the university, earning an undergraduate chemistry degree in 1979 then soon after joining the school's computer center as a programmer.

McCahill even came upon a cool name for this: "surfing," inspired by one of his favorite pastimes, windsurfing on Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis.

McCahill earlier helped to pioneer the now-common practice of downloading e-mail via desktop software and to create one of the first such programs, POPmail.

E-mail was a foreign concept to most at the U, but McCahill and his "insurgent" team popularized it by "sneaking it into people's offices under the radar of the existing systems organization," O'Connor recalled. "He gave all the big kids accounts and said, 'Try this thing, and you'll like it.' " Pretty soon, he said, e-mail was everywhere on campus.

The U has touted McCahill's work in its "Did You Know?" series of great accomplishments, alongside Minnesota giants like Norman Borlaug, father of the "Green Revolution," and C. Walton Lillehei, a creator of the first heart-lung machine.

"Right now, the big project for the computer people at the U is replacing the financial system," he said, referring to a huge, years-long multimillion-dollar internal project. "It sucks down loads of attention and resources. ... It's a sign of where some of the priorities are," he said. "If the focus is going to be on a financial system, to get that out the door. ... I'm 51. I don't want to wait for the focus to shift to (developing) learning and collaborative systems."

He says he also has been frustrated that "the university has been getting starved slowly by the Legislature. I've been here 27 years, the level of state support for the university keeps eroding. That stuff gets old after awhile."

As he leaves for one of the world's most prestigious private universities, McCahill says big public schools like the U need to be wary. With their financial strength, "places like Duke can do what they want. But if those are the only guys doing the cool interesting stuff, the big publics are going to be left out in the cold.

"The U needs to be very careful about that sort of stuff. Nobody went to the U because of the administrative systems. They went because of the faculty and research that happens here."

Amen, brother...

Mr. B.

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