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February 29, 2016

Making the Years Count in One that Leaps

He was once the youngest official member of the 3000 community. And for a few more years, he still has the rare distinction of not being in his 50s or 60s while knowing MPE. Eugene Volokh celebrates his 48th birthday today. The co-creator of MPEX must wait every four years to celebrate on his real day of birth: He was born on Feb. 29 in the Ukraine.

Like the HP 3000 and MPE itself, years do not appear to weigh heavy on the community's first wunderkind.

Eugene at 48Although he's no longer the youngest 3000 community member (a rank that sits today with Myles Foster, product manager for MB Foster in this first year after his recent double-degree graduation from Carleton University) Eugene probably ranks as the best-known member outside our humble neighborhood. He built and then improved MPEX, VEAudit/3000 and Security/3000 with his father Vladimir at VEsoft. Then Eugene earned a law degree, clerked at the US 9th Circuit Court, and went on to clerk for now-retired US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor -- all en route to his current place in the public eye as go-to man for all questions concerning intellectual property on the Web and Internet, as well as First and Second Amendment issues across all media.

Eugene's profile has risen enough since his last birthday that the Associated Press included him in its latest "Born on This Day" feature. He's appeared on TV, been quoted in the likes of the Wall Street Journal, plus penned columns for that publication, the New York Times, as well as Harvard, Yale and Georgetown law reviews.

When I last heard Eugene's voice, he was commenting in the middle of a This American Life broadcast. He's a professor of Constitutional law at UCLA, and the father of two sons of his own by now. Online, he makes appearances on The Volokh Conspiracy blog he founded with brother Sasha (also a law professor, at Emory University). Since his last birthday, the Conspiracy has become a feature of the Washington Post.

In the 3000 world, Eugene's star burned with distinction when he was only a teenager. I met him in Orlando at the annual Interex conference in 1988, when he held court at a dinner at the tender age of 20. I was a lad of 31 and people twice his age listened to him wax full on subjects surrounding security -- a natural topic for someone who presented the paper Burn Before Reading, which remains a vital text even more 25 years after it was written. That paper's inception matches with mine in the community -- we both entered in 1984. But Eugene, one of those first-name-only 3000 personalities like Alfredo or Birket, was always way ahead of many of us in 3000 lore and learning.

Burn Before Reading is part of a collection of Eugene's Thoughts and Discourses on HP 3000 Software, published by VEsoft long before indie publishing was so much in vogue. (We've got copies of the 4th Edition here at the NewsWire we can share, if you don't have one in your library. Email me.) The book even had the foresight to include advertisements from other members of the 3000 indie software vendor ranks. His father reminded me this month that the Russian tradition of Samizdat was a self-publishing adventure born out of the need to escape USSR censorship. These Russians created an enterprise out of the opportunities America and HP provided in the 1970s, when they emigrated.

Eugene got that early start as a voice for the HP 3000 building software, but his career included a temporary job in Hewlett-Packard's MPE labs at age 14. According to his Wikipedia page

At age 12, he began working as a computer programmer. Three years later, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Math and Computer Science from UCLA. As a junior at UCLA, he earned $480 a week as a programmer for 20th Century Fox. During this period, his achievements were featured in an episode of OMNI: The New Frontier.

His father Vladimir remains an icon of the 3000 community who still travels to consult in the US, visit some of the VEsoft customers to advise them on securing and exploiting the powers of MPE. The Volokh gift is for languages -- Vladimir speaks five, and Sasha once gave a paper in two languages at a conference, before and then after lunch.

At 37,000 words, a single Q&A article from Eugene -- not included in the book -- called Winning at MPE is about half as big as your average novel. The papers in Thoughts and Discourses, as well as Winning, are included on each product tape that VEsoft ships. But if you're not a customer, you can read them on the Adager website. They're great training on the nuances of this computer you're probably relying upon, nearly three decades after they were written. Happy Birthday, young man. Long may your exacting and entertaining words wave.

10:59 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink

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