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Columbia University 1966-2011

This is a chapter extracted from the family history that I'm writing for my children.

In August 1966, after three years in the Army and then six months in Washington DC, I moved to New York City and within a matter of weeks I started as a full-time student in Columbia University's adult division, the School of General Studies. I also worked at Columbia the whole time; first in Butler Library, later in the Engineering School. Then in 1974 I got a full-time job in the Computer Center and stayed with it until I was laid off in 2011.

Peter Marsh = My college rommate.
Amy = My daughter.
Peter = My son.
Mr.P = Peter.
You guys = Peter and Amy.
Judy = My ex-wife Judy Scott.
Mommy = Judy.
Granpa = Judy's father, Ulysses S. Scott.
Granma = Judy's mother, Consuelo Lillian Scott (née Bergen).
—Frank da Cruz <fdc@columbia.edu>

Most recent update: 10 September 2023 14:05:36

Columbia University...

Columbia University
Columbia University 2002
In August 1966, before I received my acceptance letter, I moved to NYC from DC. The day arrived I found a temporary apartment (the one in the Take-Ome building) and got a job Butler library. I worked there three years, everything from shelving books to working at the checkout desk to cataloging PhD dissertations. I started at $1.00/hour and was earning $2.30 by the time I left in 1969. One day working at the desk a little old man shuffled in, timidly… It was the library's first ever amnesty on overdue books, and he turned in a book he had checked out in 1888.

In September I started a full load at GS and still worked full time in the library, 40-60 hours a week. I ended up with a BS in Sociology in 1970, somewhat belated because I was suspended for a semester due to the sit-ins and arrests. I paid my way totally by working, plus a $100-per-month stipend from the VA, and whatever meager scholarships I could get. Also Peter Marsh and I would go to P&S once a month and sell blood for $10 and some free juice and cookies.

My undergraduate degree was pre-Internet, pre-computer, purely paper and pencil, blackboards and chalk, books and libraries and typewriters. The only exception was one single sociology class that used computers, but I dropped it because we had to go to the East Side where *the* computer terminal (an IBM Selectric typewriter) was.

The only computers were mammoth multimillion dollar monsters accessible only to a select few and even then only by punch cards and printouts, and they were not networked. There was no email. TV was still broadcast, cable didn't come until the 1970s. Music was on 33⅓ and 45rpm records and LPs; there was a record store on Broadway across from Columbia. Although video recording had been invented, it did not reach the mass market until the 1970s, so there were no VCRs, no video rental. Anyway I never had a TV until the 1970s although Peter Marsh and I rented one briefly at 109th Street for the 1968 Olympics. At Columbia, papers had to be typed on typewriters. Around every university was a bunch of stores for used and new typewriters, and Butler Library had coin-operated public typewriters. I bought a Czechoslovakian manual typewriter for $5.00 that I wrote all my papers on. Offices had electric typewriters, usually the IBM Selectric. I have been a good typer since high school, when my dad and mom made me learn to touch-type. To this day I can type about 120wpm just like both of them. I imagine my life would have turned out a lot different if that hadn't happened.

I got straight A's all through freshman year. Sophomore year was 1968, when I was in Low Library and was arrested twice, etc, so no more straight A's.

Interlude: Student uprising 1968

[Read 1968 history]

My first impression of Columbia was pretty good: the students, faculty, and staff... A lot of fast-talking New Yorkers, it was "somewhat" integrated (staff: very; student body: a little; faculty: not much). There were lots of antiwar demonstrations and pro-Harlem activity. In 1966 and 1967 I was in a lot rallies and marches against the Vietnam war and/or racism, including several huge ones in Washington DC. In 1967 I withheld 84% of my tax bill; click here to see what I wrote to IRS by way of explanation (I remember typing this in the Bertha with Mommie and Jude and Peter and Wendy watching over my shoulder). I never heard a peep from the government about it.

Breaking into the gym site
Breaking into the gym site 1968
But it soon became evident that the Columbia administration and trustees were all in with the Vietnam war and with the ethnic cleansing of Harlem (a long story I won't go into here because there are whole books about it... anyway you see how Harlem is today and you can thank Columbia for it). The final straw was when Columbia appropriated a big chunk of Morningside Park for itself in order to build its new gym. There were constant demonstrations over this, so finally CU made a concession, allowing "community members" (i.e. Black people) into the gym but only through the back door, a policy that was immediately dubbed Gym Crow. I was at work when this news came out and a bunch of students went to the construction site and tried to tear down the fence and the police came and arrested them. When I came out of Butler Library a near riot was going on around the Sundial, I joined it, and before long we all marched into Hamilton Hall and "occupied it" overnight.

Me in Low Library 1968
Me in Low Library 1968
I have a whole website about this here, no need to recount everything that's already in there, but briefly... Early the next morning the white students, including me, marched to Low Library, broke open the locked door and moved in to President Kirk's office. As the days passed, four more buildings were occupied, including Fayerweather where Mommy was for a while, then after a week we were all removed forcibly by police. That was the "first bust", involving about 700 arrests.

100 Centre Street
100 Centre Street
Tom Hayden
Tom Hayden 1968
I spent the night in the Tombs at 100 Centre Street sharing a cell with Tom Hayden and few other people. Another item worth mentioning about that night is that I saw a guy I worked with in Butler who had tried to recruit me to "blow stuff up" walking the corridors wearing an NYPD badge; I ratted him out and he was fired from his Butler job.

612 West 114th Street
Peter Marsh in custody
About two weeks later there was an SRO occupation on 114th Street with about 100 arrests, including Peter Marsh (right) , and a few days after that 138 of us occupied Hamilton again and were arrested. There's a movie about all this called Columbia Revolts; I'm in it a lot, but the best part was cut out some time after 1988 (when Peter and I saw it at a 20th anniversary showing), where Teddy Gold and I are sharing a gallon jug of apple cider. All traces of Teddy were removed from the film after he was killed in the March 6, 1970, West 11th Street townhouse explosion where they were building bombs.

I was charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor and spent the next three years going to court dates on Centre Street and learning about how the criminal courts work in real life for the accused prostitutes, drug offenders, etc, who are the large majority of the court's cases. The key number is 90: the public defender meets the defendent for the first and only time and spends 90 seconds convincing him or her to plead guity in exchange for a 90-day sentence; otherwise they'll be at Rikers for 2-3 years awaiting trial (did you know that 70% of all the people in jail in this country are awaiting trial but can't afford bail?). So they plead guilty. Next!... For every hour I spent in the courtroom I'd see 40 poor souls sent to prison. Anyway after three years and about 30 court dates I ended pleading to a violation, with no punishment.

May 1968 French poster
French poster
About a month later all hell broke loose in France and afterwards some of those people came and stayed with me and they all said that we were their inspiration; they gave me a bunch of their famous posters like the one shown at left that was on my wall at 109th Street. Then that summer the same thing happened in Mexico. Mommy and I were there for that, and only by accident did we miss being in a demonstration that was mowed down by machine-gun fire.

The Columbia strike lasted the rest of the school year; the University was effectively shut down. There were picket lines in front of every building, and I was in them. Our main function was to reason with people who disagreed with us, rather than to physically block them from going in. Many were sympathetic, some were hostile, some were belligerent.

I can't speak for the French and Mexicans, but as to why we were so motivated in those days... On average, the USA was killing 2000 Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians every single day and destroying and poisoning their cities, towns, and countryside. People our age were being drafted and sent over there to murder people who only wanted to be left alone. Of my Frankfurt High schoolmates, hundreds went to Vietnam and 15 came back in boxes. And, in the wake of the very recent civil rights movement, Columbia's behavior towards its Harlem and Manhattan Valley neighbors was arrogant and predatory.

Interlude within the Interlude

Joanne Tuminski 1968
Joanne Tuminski 1968
It's a little-known fact that I had a girlfriend just before Mommie, named Joanne Tuminski. She was two years behind Mommie at Barnard and lived in 616, the Barnard dorm on 116th Street. I knew her from my library job, every time she came to the desk she'd stay and talk. Then when I was in Low Library, she'd come to my window and bring me treats, so after it was all over we saw each other for a couple months before Judy happened. Joanne was from Dorchester Mass and her favorite expression was to say something was "warped", but with her Boston accent. We used to lay on the South Field lawn and look up at the stars and talk for hours and hours. One day when we were hanging out together we bumped into Mommie and I introduced them.

Columbia University, cont'd

I was suspended for a semester because I wouldn't apologize to the Dean of GS and worked full time in Butler, during which time I also was a labor organizer for District Council 65, successful enough to force an (unsuccessful) election, but this got me fired from Butler. The voting, by the way, was at Broadway Presbyterian (Amy's Own Skoo-well), in the basement.

Mina Karp and Margo Jefferson
Mina Karp, Margo Jefferson
After being ejected from the library I got a full-time job in the Engineering School because Mommy's and my friend Laura Karp whose parents, Bill and Mina Karp, were 1930s Lefties in the WPA Art Project, asked Mina, who worked there, if there was a job for me and that's how I wound up at the Engineering School. Margo Jefferson also worked there and we became good friends; later she became pretty famous as a journalist and writer, winning a Pulitzer Prize, and has published two books: On Michael Jackson (2007) and Negroland: A Memoir (2015).

The job was in the Applied Physics and Nuclear Engineering department in the Mudd building, which is built around a nuclear reactor that was never turned on. Nevertheless on the reactor floor there were always radiation experiments going on so I had to wear a film badge that was checked weekly to make sure I wasn't radioactive. So aside from office work, I helped set up the experiments (e.g. making big walls out of lead or paraffin bricks for shielding) and also was responsible for the liquid nitrogen supply (once I accidentally dropped a canister and it spilled out over my foot but luckily I was wearing workboots and still have my foot). The job was informal and flexible and people were nice so I could take off for class at any time, and that's how I finished by BA.

Interlude: taxi driving...

I graduated at the end of 1970 (the middle of the school year because of the 1-semester suspension) with a BA in sociology, which turned out to be good for only one job, welfare inspector, which entails going to public housing apartments, banging on the door, demanding to enter in and see if they had anything expensive, the objective being to evict them from public housing and/or take them off welfare.

Yellow cab 1970s
Yellow cabs 1970s
So instead of that I wound up doing odd jobs (like illustrations for books and pamphlets) and then as a taxi driver — yellow cabs, "big boats" over 20 feet long. Most of the other drivers were middle-aged Black or Jewish men. Since I was the kid at the garage, I always got the worst car. Once I actually drove a whole shift in a car that had no floor in back seat. Another time my car just stopped working at the foot of the big stairs on 231st Street at Ewen Park and I sat there for like 6 hours waiting for a tow truck, never knowing that one day you guys would be taking those stairs every day.

Hack license 1970-72
Hack license 1970-72
I drove for Inwood Garage in the Bronx. This was when Mommy and I lived on 103rd Street. I'd get up about 4:30am, shower, take the #1 to 96th, take the #2 to 149th and Grand Concourse, and then the #4 up Jerome Avenue to 170th Street and walk a block west to Inwood Ave where the garage was. The building is still there but now it's Taxi Cab Partitions Inc. My shift was 6:00am to 6:00pm. At first I'd go straight to Manhattan, but the passengers there were mostly rude arrogant cheapskate businessmen in a big rush to get to a meeting or the air­port, so I quickly learned to try my best to stay in the Bronx all day where people were nice and friendly and tipped much better, even though they were poor, plus the traffic was lighter so I could make more trips per shift. Many of my Bronx passengers said I was the only yellow taxi they ever saw in their lives. Once I picked up a group of three or four gang kids, wearing colors; they couldn't believe I stopped for them and gave me a huge tip. I remember mainly being on Grand Concourse, Jerome Avenue, St. Ann's Avenue, and Third Avenue. Since this was before Internet and GPS, I carried a big foldup map with me.

By the way, a trip to the airport was about a $7.00 fare, so it would seem like a good thing, but it turned out that to get a fare back from the airport you had to give $10 to the dispatcher, so I'd just go on Queens Boulevard and usually got a fare or two. (I could keep going for many pages with the taxi stories....)

Around the same time was when Mommie and I bought our first car, a used 1963 Dodge Dart. We went to a used-car lot on Jerome Avenue and Grandpa picked it out. I know we had this car while I was a taxi driver because I remember braking on Broadway to pick up fares, forgetting that I was not in my taxi. We had the Dart for years. We bought our next car from Henry, it was kind of a sports car, eight cylinders, very fast, but paint would not stick to it, it fell off in sheets. After that we bought another used car that was stolen the very next day. Then we bought our first new car, a kind of minivan for our big shopping trips to the Paramus Mall in NJ.

How I got my computer job...

Lee Lidofsky
Lee Lidofsky
Herb Goldstein
Herb Goldstein
Me programming
Me programming the old way
Eventually the same people I had worked part-time for in the Engin­eering School offered me a full-time job, which I took. As I recall it paid $6000 a year. Within a year or two I was programming their minicomputer (a room-size monster that had 16k of 16-bit-word memory) and with prodding from one of the professors there, Lee Lidofsky, and also much encour­age­ment from Herb Goldstein (a world-famous scientist and mathematician), I earned a Masters in EE & CS on tuition exemption. It took three years while I worked in my full-time job. I had to take 65 points of "makeup" courses (calculus, physics, linear algebra, statistics and probability, etc) in addition to the 30 points of engineering because I had no math or science as an undergraduate. I would have gone on to get a PhD (was actually admitted to the program) but by then Peter was on the scene. When the grant that funded my job there ended, Lee got me my first real programming job, R&D in nuclear medicine at Mt Sinai Hospital while I was still taking
Columbia U machine room
Columbia U machine room 1974
Howard Eskin
Howard Eskin + Mr.P
engineering classes, a lot of zooming back and forth across Central Park on my bicycle. One of my engineering professors, Howard Eskin (pictured with Peter at his 1st birthday party) who was to become one of my best friends, along with his wife Lita, who would be Peter's teacher in preschool, recruited me to come work for him at the Columbia Computer Center. This was in 1974; I did, and wound up with a 37-year career in computing, data communications, and networking at Columbia (when such things were relatively novel and obscure), wrote books, traveled the world, etc etc blah blah.

PDP-11 room 1975
Judy visiting the PDP-11 room 1975
PDP-11 room 1976
PDP-11 room 1976, much more crowded (and loud)
When I first went to work at the Columbia Computer Center I was just another programmer on the huge IBM 360/91 mainframe, which was all punchcards and printouts. But from Mount Sinai I also had experience with the new minicomputers from Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), and talked them up. Within a year we had bought our first DEC multiuser timesharing computer, a PDP-11 with which up to 32 simultaneous users could interact directly. And poof! I was a manager after just one year on the job. The first picture shows a small part of the DEC PDP-11 computer that was in this small room which was also my office for two years, and where the noise was measured at 75dB.

DECSYSTEM-20 1977... A Biiiiiiiiiig Computer!
DEC buildings in Maynard MA
DEC Marlboro
Just two years later we had bought a large (not mini) DEC timesharing system for a million dollars and I was the manager of that one too, and then over the next few years three more like it, all of them networked together and used by about 6000 people. Columbia's first computer network, Columbia's first email, etc etc. We were one of DEC's biggest customers, so important they'd fly us to Logan Airport on one of their private jets and then from there to Maynard or Marlboro in one of their helicopters.

The Kermit Project...

Starting in the late 1970s, microcomputers and PCs became popular, all different kinds, and also the Columbia departments all had different kinds of computers, both mini and micro. But there was no way for all these different computers to communicate with each other so we developed the Kermit file transfer protocol and the original software programs to execute it. We wrote Kermit programs for CP/M microcomputers, the DEC mini and mainframes, the IBM mainframe, the IBM PC and (when it came out) the Macintosh. This was a big deal, all the other universities wanted it, and when they got it they added new implementations for their own computers, and before long Kermit software was available for hundreds of different computers and we were famous and I had written my first book, which was a best-seller.

Chris Gianone 1987
Chris Gianone 1987
Kermit machine room 1986
Kermit machine room
In fact, Kermit software became so popular that we (the systems programming group) were spending all our time putting it on magnetic tapes and mailing to places all over the world. No other work was getting done, and the postage was costing a lot. So I agreed with Howard and the Director, Bruce Gilchrist, to start charging for the tapes and to use the revenue to hire a business manager, Chris Gianone (who already worked elsewhere in the Computer Center), and some tape-makers and shippers, and set up a machine room in the back of Watson Lab 7th floor for making the tapes.

Me in 1987
Me with suit 1987
By 1987 Kermit was such a big deal that Chris and I were teaching courses at Columbia (and at various corporations downtown) and giving speeches in front of big crowds at computer conferences and symposia all over the USA as well as overseas. For this I had to buy a suit! Chris and I published books and articles both together and separately, and often traveled together; I'd give the technical talks and she'd make the deals. We went to the Boston area countless times in our dealings with DEC, which (as Digital Press) was also the publisher of our books. We also went to conferences in Anaheim, Nashville, and Baton Rouge (where a modem company seriously tried to hire us away from Columbia). We went to other conferences in Japan, Germany, Switzerland, France, and finally the USSR, and each trip also included side trips to other nearby places such as Austria, Italy, Hong Kong, Macau, Hawaii... Everybody (including Mommie) thought Chris and I were an item but we never were. All that time Chris was with another guy, Louie, who she married in 1997 and they had kids who are grown up now.

Me in Paris 1988
Me in Paris 1988
Chris and me in Tokyo 1987
In Tokyo 1987
Me in Ulm 1988
Me in Ulm 1988
Me and Chris in Milan
In Milan 1988
Chris in Japan 1987
Chris in Japan 1987
Me in Innsbrück 1988
Innsbrück 1988
Amy Peter

By 1990 we were making so much money in shipping fees and book sales that I was able to resign from my real job (as Columbia's network planning officer) and do Kermit full time, and even hire a full-time programmer. We came out with Kermit 95 for Windows 95 and it made millions of dollars for Columbia. But Windows and the Internet spelled the end of the international conferences and junkets.

Watson Lab
Watson Lab on 115th Street
7th Floor Watson Lab
Where I worked for 37 years
The idea of working at Columbia was that you didn't make a lot of money but it was super-informal and the benefits were almost unbelievable. For example tuition exemption for myself (how I got my Masters degree) and for you guys, about a half million dollars worth. Four weeks vacation. A defined-benefit pension. Health care. My job was just perfect for me: no bureaucracy, no meetings, no wearing suits, none of that stupid stuff that other jobs had, and I could do creative work all day long, plus dealing with users and helping them with their projects and research. Most of the time I was there I had my own private office, as did most other people — no cubicles, no "bullpens", no "scrums"... Imagine, peace and quiet, no interruptions, but at the same time you can visit other people in their offices to talk about stuff.

All of that changed in 2005 when CU president Bollinger decided the university should be run like a corporation and brought in corporate managers for every department inluding ours. Overnight it turned from the best place on earth to work to the worst. Nobody was allowed to do their job any more, all we could do was sit in meetings accounting for ourselves and setting goals and milestones, doing "strategic planning", recording everything we do in spreadsheets and dashboards, and on and on. The new managers who were brought in at every level knew nothing about computing, software, or anything else we did, so even more meetings were necessary for all the real workers to explain what they were doing to the clueless managers. Furthermore "project managers" were brought in to "interface" between us and our new managers, and to micromanage our supposed work, which none of us ever had time to do.

Meanwhile heads were rolling; not a week went by without people disappearing, especially the most senior and the most competent. I was the only one they couldn't fire because I was paying my own salary from sales of software licenses. I had been one of the small group of senior managers at the computer center for 30 years, but now I reported to a young guy 1/3 my age who used to work for me, and I had to have a "teleconference" with him every day for a couple hours. But worst of all they decided to starve me out by not letting me make new releases of our revenue-generating software products. It took five years, but eventually orders went down to where CU was having to contribute a few dollars towards my salary, and they laid me off. Luckily by then I was old enough to retire. Even more luckily, my last day was the day before Columbia cut back drastically on its retirement package. It was also the same day as the Washington-DC/NYC earthquake. I actually felt it, sitting in my office chair, a fitting sendoff.

What Is Kermit?

For the record, since it's the main thing I'm known for... From the Kermit Project website:

Kermit is the name of a file-transfer and -management protocol and a suite of computer programs for many types of computers that implements that protocol as well as other communication functions ranging from terminal emulation to automation of communications tasks through a high-level cross-platform scripting language. The software is transport-independent, operating over TCP/IP connections in traditional clear-text mode or secured by SSH, SSL/TLS, or Kerberos IV or V, as well as over serial-port connections, modems, and other communication methods (X.25, DECnet, various LAN protocols such as NETBIOS and LAT, parallel ports, etc, on particular platforms).

The Kermit Project was founded at the Columbia University Computer Center in 1981 to meet a specific need, and until the mid- to late 1990s, Kermit was Columbia's standard desktop connectivity software, used universally by students, faculty, and staff to connect from desktop microcomputers, PCs, Macintoshes, and Unix workstations to the central computing facilities: the IBM mainframes (1963-2017), the DECSYSTEM-20s (1977-1988), CLIO (Columbia's first online library information system, 1984-2003), and Cunix (our big central Unix-based servers, 1986-present), and to departmental VAXes, PDP-11s, Suns, and other minicomputers. In the early days of microcomputers and PCs but before widespread deployment of local area networks and desktop workstations that connected to them, Kermit software linked the desktop to e-mail, bulletin boards, file sharing, text processing, messaging, and other aspects of the new on-line culture that is now taken for granted, long before the experience was available at most other institutions. At Columbia, the DEC-20s and the departmental minicomputers are long gone and the IBM mainframes are now only for backoffice use, but Kermit software is still used for SSH sessions from the desktop to CUNIX, and by the technical staff for system and network administration tasks; for example, configuring racks full of HP blade servers as they arrive, management of the University's telephone system, CGI scripting, alpha paging of on-call staff, and so on. Plus, of course, by old-timers who just plain prefer the safety and efficiency of text-mode shell sessions for email and to get their work done; for example, software development and website management.

Over the years, the Kermit Project grew into a worldwide cooperative nonprofit software development and distribution effort, headquartered at and coordinated from Columbia University, as Kermit software was ported to or developed for more and more computers and operating systems (see list). The Kermit Project is dedicated to production of cross-platform, long-lasting, stable, standards-conformant, interoperable communications software, and has been actively engaged in the standards process. Kermit software is used all over the world in every sector of the economy: national government, state and local government, academic, medicine and health care, engineering, aerospace, nonprofit, and commercial.

EM-APEX ocean float Although terminal emulation has been largely supplanted by the Web for online access, Kermit software continues to play a role in other applications such as remote sensing and data collection, management and troubleshooting of networking and telecommunications equipment, back office work, cargo and inventory management, medical insurance claim submission, electronic funds transfer, and online filing of income tax returns. Kermit software is embedded in network routers and switches, in cell-phone towers, in medical diagnostic and monitoring equipment, even in cardiac pacemakers, not to mention the cash registers of quite a few big-name "big box" retailers. In 2002 Kermit flew on the International Space Station, and Kermit software is the communication method used by EM APEX ocean floats (left) supplying realtime data to hurricane researchers and trackers to this day (the hurricane project entered a new expanded phase in 2010 based on a new version of Embedded Kermit).

Boeing 787 Since the 1980s, Kermit protocol and software have been used on the factory floor in programmable die-cutting, press brake, laminating, flat roll, shearing, metal- and plastic-processing, woodworking, and other machines. For example, in the manufacture of the Boeing 787, where Kermit is used to control a Tape Layer that forms certain body components. You can read more about how Kermit is used on the factory floor here and here.

Mr. Zip Flag of Brazil Flag of Bosnia-Hezogovina In the 1990s Kermit software was used in US Post Office automation, it played a key role in the 1994 Brazilian national election (the biggest in the history of the world up to that time), and it was central to the UN relief mission to Bosnia, “linking the entire spectrum of the project operation, from mainframe, minicomputer, PCs, to handheld devices and barcode readers.”

In the 1980s the robustness of the Kermit protocol suited it ideally for service in the Green Revolution in Africa, the joint European-USSR Giotto space mission, and perhaps most notably in reestablishing data communication between US research stations in Antarctica and the mainland after they were cut off in 1986 in a computer mishap during the 9-month Antarctic winter. In 1988 an international conference on Kermit was hosted in Moscow, USSR, and Kermit sessions were featured at other conferences throughout the 1980s in Tokyo, Bern, Paris, Nashville, and elsewhere.

Muppets Calendar page from May 1981 The Kermit protocol and software are named after Kermit the Frog, star of the television series, The Muppet Show; the name Kermit is used by permission of Henson Associates, Inc. Why is it named after Kermit the Frog? In May of 1981 we already had first implementations of the protocol working, but we didn't have a name for the protocol or the software yet. A group of us was discussing it (me, Bill Catchings, Bill Schilit, Jeff Damens, I think that was the group), without actually caring too much since we never expected the software to spread all over the world and last for decades. I happened to be facing the wall that had a Muppets calendar on it, and since my children were such big fans of the Muppet Show I said, How about Kermit?  Thirty years later (May 2011) I found the calendar page that I was looking at when I said that, you can see it on the left and you can click on it to see a bigger image.

About 150 distinct Kermit programs were written by us at Columbia and elsewhere by volunteer developers, which ran on countless different hardware architectures, operating systems, OS versions and variants, in about 36 different programming languages; they are all housed at the Kermit Software Archive.

Kermit 95 Shrinkwrap
K95 Shrinkwrap
Kermit 95 was developed not only to meet Columbia's need for connectivity from Windows 95 (and later) to the central text-based services, but also to raise money to support the Kermit Project. Unlike other Kermit programs, K95 was strictly commercial, available in both a retail shrinkwrapped version (right) and in bulk right-to-copy licenses. From its release in 1995 until mid-2011, over a quarter million bulk license seats were purchased in over 1000 licenses ranging in size from 100 seats to 10,000. About 30,000 shrinkwrapped copies were sold, many thousands more purchased for download from e-academy (site now defunct), and K95 was site-licensed by over 100 universities as well as by entire statewide university systems such as SUNY (64 campuses with about 400,000 students).

The Kermit Project was put on a self-funding basis in 1984, and from then until its cancellation in 2011, it realized $8,894,912.00 in revenue for the University, plus an equipment grant (the Hermit Project) valued at $3,000,000.00. Between 1984, when the Kermit "business" began, until 1998, when the Internet took over the world, we made 31,591 shipments of Kermit software on magnetic media (mainly 10-inch reels of 9-track magnetic tape); 4679 of them international to 107 different countries including some that no longer exist such as the USSR and Yugoslavia, and to others you might not expect such as New Caledonia and (via Panama) Cuba.

The documents and records (and some artifacts) of the Kermit Project are housed at the Computer History museum in Mountain View CA, along with oral histories of the Kermit Project

  1. da Cruz, Frank, and Bill Catchings, "Kermit: A File Transfer Protocol for Universities", BYTE Magazine, Volume 9, Numbers 6 and 7, June and July 1984 (our title was "The Kermit File Transfer Protocol" but the BYTE editors changed it).
  2. da Cruz, Frank, Kermit, A File Transfer Protocol, Digital Press, Bedford MA (1987), ISBN 0-932376-88-6; foreword by Donald Knuth (a Russian edition was in the works when the Soviet Union collapsed).
  3. da Cruz, Frank, and Christine M. Gianone, Using C-Kermit, Second Edition, Digital Press / Butterworth Heinemann, Newton MA (1997), ISBN 0-55558-164-1 (there was also a German edition).
  4. Gianone, Christine M., Using MS-DOS Kermit, Second Edition, Digital Press, Burlington MA (1992), ISBN 1-55558-082-3 (there were also German and French editions).
  5. Kermit Oral History Panel, The Computer History Museum, recorded 6 April 2012 at Watson Laboratory, Columbia University (the link is to a PDF transcription).
  6. Frank da Cruz Kermit records inventory, 1968-2006, The Computer History Museum (PDF).
  7. The New Open-Source Kermit Project (website, 2011-present).

International Kermit Conference Moscow USSR 1989

USSR Kermit Conference logo
USSR Kermit Conference logo
USSR button
USSR button
Me in Moscow 1989
Me in Moscow 1989
Kermit software was perhaps the main way that Soviet computers communicated with each other (mainly in ASCII) and with the outside world in the 1980s, but they wanted Kermit to be able to deal with the muliplicity of character encodings used by the different Soviet computers for Cyrillic writing and by Eastern bloc computers with their "extended" Roman alphabets. I spent a year or two working with them on this, communicating by post and, sporadically, by BITNET and Usenet through various gateways that would cloak their identity. Finally we had a workable scheme that could, indeed, be expanded to any number of character encodings such as those used for Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Arabic, Hebrew, etc, but more to the point for COMECON countries with unique Roman character repertoires like Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland, and Yugoslavia. So a conference was organized for computer experts from all the COMECON countries (including Cuba) to be held in Moscow in May 1989, and Christine and I, the "owners" of the Kermit protocol, were invited as keynote speakers, all expenses paid.

Me in Suzdal 1989
Me in Suzdal 1989
Red Square
Red Square
USSR coins
USSR coins - click to enlarge
I have a trip report and photo gallery here (for as long as the link lasts; hopefully longer than most). Meanwhile here are some Soviet coins I brought back. The largest is 1 Ruble; the legend ПОБЕДА НАД ФАШИСТСКОЙ ГЕРМАНИЕЙ means Victory over the German Fascists.

Most recent update: 10 September 2023 14:05:37