On the internet

My foray began in the early ’80’s when many of my readers wouldn’t even have been born. I was connected, as a PhD student at the University of Melbourne, via ARPANET (and yes, prior to these halcyon days I used punched cards as well on a PDP8 and a Cyber (one run a day)). In the 80’s AARNET adopted TCP/IP and because we had at the University of Melbourne, one of the gurus of Berkley Unix, one Kevin Robert Elz, whom I knew just as Robert, and who wrote lots of the BSD distribution (before you Linux types) I had access to a great resource.

I remember the halcyon days when I was up all night trying to debug a program with a malloc leak (don’t worry if you don’t understand) and when I has to use Yacc and Lex before anyone had used them around me. My only source of knowledge was Robert Elz. His answer was often cd /dev/src when the source code was readily available for scrutiny. 

He came to work about 7pm at night. He was always bare footed, unkempt, and had a long beard. He came at night so he wouldn’t be disturbed by foolish questions during the day. If and when he had a hair cut, his beard was also trimmed. It was often long.

 One thing we shared in common (and that was not our Unix knowledge because he was a גאון in Unix)”, and Unix was not my religion) was a love of cricket. He had three TVs around him. One on the left, one on the right, and huge one behind him. If a wicket fell he’d swing around and watch it on the bigger screen. He was as addicted as I was to cricket. In order to get him to help me with some buggy code, I used to start off an email with a cricket comment and then he’d also respond to the PS. 

I remember when we learned the C programming language. He was assigned as our tutor, We were given a 50 minute tutorial on C and that was that! That’s a cruel joke.

I remember one night there was this multi-user game I think it was called civilisation, that has just been released. It was about building towns, agriculture, armies etc … because Robert would come in at night he would often wipe out our villages and towns overnight. One night all the postgrads decided to stick around all night and gang up and wipe out Elz’s infratrsucture. At about 4am he saw all was lost and we were going to over-run him. What did he do? He was the super-user. He simply pulled the electric plug out of the Vax 11/780 and went home. We were so close yet so far. He didn’t suffer fools lightly, so if you asked him a question you had better have gone over all your code 100 times before you asked him for a hint.

Why do I mention this. I also co-wrote a book at that time with a black american called Koenraad Lecot. I had never met Koenraad, but should look him up. We never saw each other but put together a serial book on the area of Logic Programming which was an important resource for researchers. I found a way to hack the Melbourne Uni servers so that my emails were delivered instantaneously.

This morning I listened to a live shiur out of the North of America. After the shiur, a Yid, older than me, who is a Mashgiach and who takes his work very seriously, skyped and asked if I wanted to learn and go over the shiur. I responded that he should contact me when ready, and if I was availabl,e of course, I would learn with him. I don’t know him from a bar of soap but we were learning some יורה דעה and he had a קושיא which was bothering him. He was in Seattle late a night and I was in Melbourne  Erev Shabbos. We ended up learning twice via Skype, and I introduced him to the בדי השולחן …. he only had 3 seforim in Seattle. I read and translated the בדי השולחן and in the end we ended up with the בדי השולחן remaining with a צריך עיון on the question he raised. 

Watching him, he was so happy. I went upstairs with a hop, skip and jump and told my son צבי יהודה that THIS is the תחלית of the internet. When a Yid in Melbourne learns יורה דעה with a guy stuck in Seattle, and I left him with a big smile on his face. I felt fulfilled. This is the פשט in מעלה קליפת נוגה

People who think God only puts the good in this world are seriously mistaken. Despite my history, above, this was more important than all of that.

From Yiddish Humor

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

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