USENIX Auction To Help Establish UNIX Teaching Position

Posted by dcparris on Jun 1, 2006 6:55 AM EDT
LXer; By Terry Vessels
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Jon 'maddog' Hall and Ken Thompson

Yesterday, Jon 'maddog' Hall contacted LXer to announce the auction of a copy of John Lions' book, Lions' Commentary on UNIX, autographed by Dennis Ritchie, Ken Thompson, Kirk McKusick, Eric Allman, Peter Salus, and Linus Torvalds. This is part of a drive to establish the John Lions Chair in Operating Systems at the University of New South Wales, but for the lucky bid-winner, it's a chance to own a bit of computing history.

Jon 'maddog' Hall, Executive Director of Linux International, contacted LXer yesterday to remind everyone that today, June 1, 2006 is the beginning of the auction of the autographed copy of John Lions' "Commentary on UNIX". Those signing the book are a who's who of UNIX: Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, creators of UNIX, Kirk McKusick, project lead for BSD and copyright holder of the BSD Daemon, Eric Allman, who gave us Sendmail, Peter Salus, considered the historian of UNIX and the Internet, and Linus Torvalds, originator and lead developer for Linux.

Jon graciously allowed me to quote any part of our email conversation.

In the ODT document you attached, it states, "USENIX is matching contributions received for the John Lions Fund up to a $250,000 total limit, through December 31, 2006." This implies accepting donations outside the auction, too. Should such donations be sent to USENIX at the address given?

maddog: 'They can go to the USENIX site ( and click on the "John Lions" button on the left hand side of the page to find out about the whole program.'

What will be the purpose of the "John Lions Chair in Operating Systems at the University of New South Wales"?

maddog: 'Basically to fund a position for a professor's position to teach "insightful and inspirational teaching in operating systems". For more information about John and his work (and the chair) go to:'

Who will benefit? In what ways?

maddog: 'The students of the University of New South Wales, by having a professor who is chosen for this type of teaching.

The family of John Lions, to know that people care so much.

Teachers everywhere, to know that people appreciate this type of person.'

Why should anyone outside of New South Wales be concerned, other than the chance at the autographed book?

maddog: 'When has philanthropy been limited by a country's borders? Do free software people say "Pardon me, but you can not use my software because you live in Taiwan?" Did John Lions tell people not to photocopy or read his book because they lived in Canada?

John's book helped computer science students interested in computer science see how good code was written, and simple engineering concepts like not worrying as much about optimizing code that is executed once versus code executed a lot....that writing and studying other people's code can be enlightening and illuminating.

I know that you asked the question as a reporter, but I hope that people have not become so petty as to worry about country borders in a project like this.'

Yeah, but if I say it, nobody listens. When you say it, they either sit up and take notice or someone who knows your history will educate them.

I'm tempted to just copy and paste our exchange, as my questions may occur [sic] for many people and your answers are good and strong.

maddog: 'This is fine. I am not known for weak responses.'

It's a bit intimidating to have so many living legends all wrapped together like this.

maddog: 'Sometimes it is hard being a "legend". I know that John did not think of himself in that line. I am fairly sure that most, if not all, of the people who signed that book feel that way. Maybe that is what makes them so special.

I do not know if Dave passed on the picture of Ken Thompson and I together on a signing of the book, but I have included it for you.

I also included a picture of Kirk McKusick and Eric Allman at another signing of the same book.

warmest regards,

Thanks for everything you've done over the years, maddog.

(ComputerWorld's Dahna McConnachie conducted an interview of Jon 'maddog' Hall back in March, titled Jon Maddog Hall on Linux, saving money and ruling the world).

The contents of an ODT attachment sent by Jon follows:

USENIX Auction

John Lions' "Commentary on Unix" Autographed by Dennis Ritchie, Ken Thompson, Kirk McKusick, Eric Allman, Peter Salus and Linus Torvalds

What is for auction:

A copy of John Lions' book "Lions' Commentary on Unix" (new, paperback) signed by "notables" in the Unix and Linux field. It has been signed by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie (co-developers of the original Unix system), Kirk McKusick, project lead for Berkeley BSD, and the copyright holder for the Daemon. Eric Allman, of sendmail fame, Peter Salus, historian of Unix, and last (but not least), Linus Torvalds, the architect and lead developer of the "Linux" kernel.


A tax-deductible donation to the USENIX Association for the John Lions Fund. This fund will establish the John Lions Chair in Operating Systems at the University of New South Wales. USENIX is matching contributions received for the John Lions Fund up to a $250,000 total limit, through December 31, 2006.

The price of the book ($39.95 from Amazon), local taxes (if any), shipping and Ebay fees will be deducted from the winning bid for tax purposes, but all of the money above that in the auction will be tax deductible, so as they say in the advertisements:

  • book, $39.95 plus shipping
  • helping a good cause and having these autographs to display on your desk or in your office.....PRICELESS!

How the auction will be run:

The book is being held at the USENIX offices:

2560 Ninth Street, Suite 215, Berkeley, CA, 94710
Tel: 510-528-8649
Fax: 510-548-5738

The bidding will run for ten days, in conjunction with the start of the USENIX Annual Technical Conference in Boston, Massachusetts.

After the bidding is over, the winner will send a cashier's check in US funds and drawn on a US bank made out to "USENIX Association" to:

John Lions Fund: Auction
USENIX Association
2560 Ninth St., Suite 215
Berkeley, CA 94710

Upon receipt and deposit of the check USENIX will send the book to you, with a receipt for the amount of the donation (the bid, minus the price of the book, local taxes (if any), shipping and Ebay fees) which will be tax deductible in the United States.

USENIX is matching donations, dollar for dollar up to $250,000. for the total program. But even if this limit of matching is reached, your donation is fully deductible from your taxes.

How to Bid

Go to Ebay and search in the “books” category for “Lions” and “Commentary on Unix” to find the entry. [Editor's note: Direct link is here.] Then follow normal Ebay style of bidding. The bidding starts on June 1st at 0900 EDT and goes for ten days.

Who was John Lions?

"John Lions" was a professor of computer science at the University of New South Wales, in Australia.

John believed that you could greatly improve a student's programming skills by allowing them to study the programming habits of really good coders, and with that thought in mind he proceeded to annotate the source code for Unix 6th Edition, to hand this out to his students. He had asked, and received, permission from the AT&T lawyers to do this, but in the end they rescinded their permission, and the book was never published.

However, a couple of preliminary copies got out, and were photocopied. Then those were photocopied, and those copies were photocopied. For a time it was a badge of honor to have a copy of the book "only five generations of photocopy" removed from the original. Some were so far down the generational tree that they could barely be read. I can not remember what generation my copy was, but it was pretty faint.

But the book was still not published.

A few years ago it was determined that John was dying of a degenerative disease and some of his friends and compatriots approached the UNIX copyright holders of that time and got permission to publish the original manuscript, just in time, I believe for John to see his work hit the streets before he died.

Now the University of New South Wales would like to set up "The John Lions Chair in Computer Science", which will fund the salary of an "eminent academic in the field of Computer Science" in honor of John giving twenty-three years of his life to UNSW through teaching and research in Computer Science.

The funds for this chair have not been completely fulfilled. Greg Rose and his company Qualcomm as well as a series of other companies and people have donated quite a bit of money, but it takes quite a bit more to have a sustainable chair. Greg has approached the USENIX organization, where I was a board member,, to give matching funds to this effort, up to 250,000 USD. But of course some money has to come from someplace to "match". Thus the idea of this auction.

I support this, not only to honor John, but for the good of the students at the show them that good works do not go unnoticed or unappreciated.


Jon "maddog" Hall, President, Linux International

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current bid... grouch 3 1,484 Jun 10, 2006 5:25 PM

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