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[Linux-aus] Linux Australia contributing to the John Lions Chair in Operating Systems

Hi LA,

Software development, and FOSS development in particular, is very much a
matter of achieving greatness by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Almost everything we do is a synthesis of the work of many other people
whether we're aware of it or not.

Among the giants of computing history was John Lions[1][2]. For almost
25 years he was a driving force in the Department of Computing at UNSW
which became recognised as one of the leading centers of expertise in
operating system design. Many of his students have gone on to greatness
by standing on the knowledge and skills he imparted to them, including
many Linux developers.

One of the approaches he took was using the source code of a real
operating system as a teaching aid rather than teaching purely from
theory. In the early seventies he took a copy of the complete source
code for UNIX and wrote a line by line commentary which he compiled as a
book for his students, but by 1979 the book ("Source Code and Commentary
on UNIX LEVEL 6" or more commonly called just "the Lions book"[2]) had
become tied up in a legal battle over the intellectual property rights
to the source code it contained and it could no longer be distributed.
When distribution was halted a few existing copies were unofficially
photocopied for friends, who photocopied it for other friends, and so on
until it became the most copied text in the history of computer science.

Unfortunately John was forced to retire in 1995 due to ill health, and
after his retirement a number of computing greats including Dennis
Ritchie lobbied for the UNIX v6 copyright owners to allow the book to be
published. After years of lobbying their permission was finally granted,
and shortly before his death in 1998 John was handed a full, legally
published copy of his book for the first time, legitimising after 20
years what has arguably been the most influential work ever written
about operating system design.

John's influence extended far beyond just the Lions book: he was also
the founding President of AUUG[4]; helped set up the Australian Computer
Science Conference; was editor of Australian Computer Journal; and was
made a fellow of the Australian Computer Society[5].

To honour John's far-reaching legacy UNSW is establishing a permanent
chair known as The John Lions Chair in Operating Systems[6]. The purpose
of the chair is to "enable an eminent academic to continue the John
Lions tradition of insightful and inspirational teaching in operating

Establishment of the chair involves raising AU$1 million to fund the
position in perpetuity, and this is where LA comes in.

Prior to linux.conf.au in Dunedin this year honorary Aussie* Jon
'maddog' Hall suggested that we use the conference dinner auction to
raise funds to help support the establishment of the chair. Through the
USENIX association[7] he arranged that any funds raised would be matched
with USENIX funds, and he personally provided a number of items to be
auctioned off at the dinner including a copy of the Lions book signed by
a swag of computer science legends.

While the auction was in progress the LA Committee members present had a
quick huddle-in-the-corner meeting and agreed that it would be a very
worthwhile use of LA funds to put our support behind the John Lions
Chair, and so we pledged that LA would match funds with the auction
winner up to a maximum of AU$10k. The total funds raised would then be
pooled to be matched with the USENIX funds, giving the final auction
value up to a 4X multiplier effect!

To add to the fun a number of FOSS luminaries pledged that they would
shave their heads (or in Rusty's case his moustache) if bidding passed
certain values.

In the end the auction was (very appropriately) won by a consortium from
UNSW with a winning bid of $10k. Several thousand dollars more was also
donated by various kind-hearted souls attending the conference, and when
the other auctioned items plus LA's pledged $10k matching funds was
added up we ended up with AU$24,318 to be submitted to USENIX - who will
then double it again for a whopping total of more than AU$48,000 to be
donated to assist the establishment of the chair!

I was personally stunned by the generosity of the FOSS community: even
days after the auction had finished many people still donated additional
funds to be added to the auction total because they could see that the
money was going to such a worthy cause. Overall it was an incredible
result which will have a significant effect in funding the chair.

The latest figure I heard indicated that with the extremely generous
support of many individuals and organisations more than $700k has now
been raised towards establishment of the chair, so things are very much
on track to make sure John's tradition of hands-on teaching is continued
and more Australians are given the chance to learn about operating
system design.

The signed book won in the auction is now destined to be placed on
display back at UNSW, the place where it all started, and which just
happens to be the venue for the next linux.conf.au[8] in January.

So a big thankyou to everyone who contributed funds towards the auction
and to maddog for arranging it in the first place. It's not too late to
contribute though: the chair is still in need of donations to guarantee
ongoing funding, so if you'd like to contribute please contact
committee@linux.org.au so that LA can submit the funds on your behalf
and gain the benefit of the USENIX matching fund to double your

Cheers   :-)

Jonathan Oxer

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Lions
[2] http://do.cse.unsw.edu.au/industry/JohnLions/index.phtml
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lions%27_Commentary_on_UNIX_6th_Edition
[4] http://www.auug.org.au/
[5] http://www.acs.org.au/
[6] http://do.cse.unsw.edu.au/industry/JohnLions/chair.phtml
[7] http://www.usenix.org/
[8] http://www.linux.conf.au/

* We claim all the best people   :-)

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