by Patrick B. Pexton
March 1, 2012
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Caw, caw, caw, crunch! That’s the sound of me eating crow. It’s not the most pleasant repast I’ve had — the feathers don’t go down so easy — but it is a necessary one.
I did a blog post this past Friday that was dismissive, snarky and wrongheaded, and had factual errors too. And I apologize to readers for it and I’ll try to repair some of the damage here.
My blog post was in response to e-mails that I, and Post Innovations editor Emi Kolawole, received denouncing her Feb. 17 story about a Massachusetts Institute of Technology instructor, who as a high school student in the late 1970s, developed, and later copyrighted, an electronic electronic messaging system. The story was headlined: “V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai: Inventor of e-mail honored by Smithsonian.”
I was upset at the harsh nature of some of these e-mails, and they came amid a heavy week of barbs and complaints about Post coverage — some of them merited, some of them not.
But sometimes people are upset because they have a legitimate beef, and then it’s my job to listen, and in this case I didn’t. I was too dismissive and came to the defense of Kolawole too quickly without doing enough checking myself.
These correspondents took such umbrage because they, in fact, do know a lot more about the origins of e-mail than I do, or Kolawole did, and they care deeply about the truth and who should get proper credit for such an important invention. And they care that The Post gets it right. I do too.
So let’s begin.
In this narrative, I’m going to hedge in a few places because Kolawole is still doing some extensive fact checking on her original story, and yes, she should have done more of that prior to publication.
But I think it’s safe to say that although Ayyadurai is an interesting fellow, and that, as a teenager, he did develop an early electronic messaging system for about 100 users at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and obtained a 1982 copyright for its computer code — he named the program, all uppercase, “EMAIL” — he should not have been called “inventor of e-mail” in the headline.
As so many distinguished experts in this field wrote to tell me — I’ll name them below — Ayyadurai is not the inventor of electronic messaging between computers, what we have all come to call e-mail. Electronic messaging was developed by many hands over many years, and probably began in the early 1960s, possibly as early as 1961, on people using time-shared computers.
E-mail was developed alongside early versions of the Internet, and was driven by scientists, researchers and users of the ARPANET, the early computer network associated with the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency. One of the first Internet Request for Comments — an early paper memo circulated broadcast e-mail [DELETE] to ARPANET users asking for input on a “mail box protocol” went out in July 1971. Subsequent RFCs became the guideposts and user manuals for the developing e-mail system. The standardization of fields within e-mail — the “To,” “From,” “CC,” “BCC” etc. — seem to have begun with RFC-680 in 1975.
Ayyadurai may have used some similar conventions in his program for the New Jersey university and its satellite campuses — he began working on his in 1978 — but most all of them were used earlier by scientists and researchers on the ARPANET. Ayyadurai’s program was later, smaller and localized.
Issues In NY Criminal Law--Vol. 3, #3
by Gary Muldoon
Copyright© 1999-2008 by Gary Muldoon
ISSUE: Sufficiency and weight of the evidence as issues on appeal
AMONG the issues that the defense may raise on appeal is the quality of the evidence adduced at trial. Two related but distinct issues may be raised:
1. that the trial evidence was legally insufficient; and
2. that the verdict of conviction was against the weight of the evidence.
Although the two standards of intermediate appellate review legal sufficiency and weight of evidence are related, each require a discrete analysis." People v Bleakley, 69 NY2d 490, 515 NYS2d 761 (1981).
SUFFICIENCY of evidence is expressly provided as a ground for appeal in the Criminal Procedure Law. "The kinds of determinations of reversal or modification deemed to be upon the law include, but are not limited to, the following: . . . (b) That evidence adduced at a trial resulting in a judgment was not legally sufficient to establish the defendant's guilt of an offense of which he was convicted..." CPL 470.15(4)(b). With sufficiency of the evidence, the intermediate appellate court "must determine whether there is any valid line of reasoning and permissible inferences which could lead a rational person to the conclusion reached by the jury on the basis of the evidence at trial and as a matter of law satisfy the proof and burden requirements for every element of the crime charged." Bleakley at 495 (citation omitted). The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the people.
Preservation of error below is required to raise legal sufficiency on appeal. A perfunctory trial order of dismissal is not enough; the specific grounds of insufficiency must be stated. People v Gray, 86 NY2d 10, 629 NYS2d 173 (1995); People v Ferguson, 240 AD2d 510, 658 NYS2d 134 (2d Dept 1997).
THE Criminal Procedure Law also provides for an appeal directed to the weight of evidence. "The kinds of determinations of reversal or modification deemed to be on the facts include, but are not limited to, a determination that a verdict of conviction resulting in a judgment was, in whole or in part, against the weight of the evidence." CPL 470.15(5). With weight of the evidence, "the appellate court's dispositive analysis is not limited to that legal test. Even if all the elements and necessary findings are supported by some credible evidence, the court must examine the evidence further. If based on all the credible evidence a different finding would not have been unreasonable, then the appellate court must, like the trier of fact below, `weigh the relative probative force of conflicting testimony and relative strength of conflicting inferences that may be drawn from the testimony.'" People v Bleakley, supra; see People v Robinson, 139 AD2d 677, 527 NYS2d 307 (2d Dept 1988); Handling a Criminal Case in New York § 23:75.
IF the appellate court reverses on either weight or sufficiency grounds, the charge is dismissed, and the defendant may not be retried on it again. CPL 470.20(2),(5).
IN a CPL 330.30 motion, the issue of sufficiency of the evidence may be validly raised after trial, but weight of the evidence may not. See People v Carter, 63 NY2d 530, 483 NYS2d 654 (1984).
QUOTATION: "Almost all legal sentences, whether they appear in judges' opinions, written statutes, or ordinary bills of sale, have a way of reading as though as though they had been translated from the German by someone with a rather meager knowledge of English." -- Fred Rodell, Woe Unto You, Lawyers
As the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, to which Ayyadurai gave documents about his early work, wrote in a second press release about Ayyadurai, [DELETE] wrote in its press release about him, after the original Post story on him was published, “Many innovations are conceived independently in different settings. Historians who have documented the early history of electronic messaging have largely focused on the use of large networked computers, especially those linked to the ARPANET in the early 1970s. Ayyadurai’s story reveals a contrasting approach, focusing on communicating via linked computer terminals in an ordinary office situation. The system was localized, linking only three campuses rather than multiple large institutions. It was a small enterprise, rather than a big enterprise story.”
Was Ayyadurai “honored” by the Smithsonian? Well if the Smithsonian’s acceptance of the donation of his early paperwork and computer coding on his “EMAIL” program is an honor, then he can feel so honored. But The Post should not have implied that he was being honored because he was the inventor of e-mail.
And some other sentences within Kolawole’s story, and in my subsequent blog post, went too far as well: “The Smithsonian has acquired the tapes, documentation, copyrights, and over 50,000 lines of code that chronicle the invention of e-mail. The lines of code that produced the first “bcc,” “cc,” “to” and “from” fields were the brainchild of then-14-year-old inventor V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai.”
Yes, the Smithsonian has acquired Ayyadurai’s materials, but the story should probably have said something like those materials “chronicled the development of Ayyadurai’s e-mail system used by the university in New Jersey.”
Based upon the materials submitted to me by recognized experts in this field, Ayyadurai’s e-mail system was not the first to use the “To,” “From,” “Bcc,” and “CC,” codes, although Ayyadurai might dispute that. Certainly, calling them his “brainchild” seems to slight all the other early computer networkers who also used them.
Now, the other part of Kolawole’s story that technology experts objected to is the conclusion that she drew — based on her interviews with Ayyadurai — that he was selfless in seeking copyright of his “EMAIL” system.
These are the two offending sentences: “By pursuing a copyright on his e-mail work, Ayyadurai opened it up for use, but with credit. Had he pursued a patent, it could have significantly stunted the technology’s growth even as it had the potential to make him incredibly wealthy.”
The technologists don’t like this for two reasons.
First is the idea of copyright and patent, and intellectual property law. The experts who e-mailed me said that computer software was generally not patentable in the late 1970s and early 1980s but became so later. Ayyadurai could not have patented his EMAIL program at that time even if he wanted to, they say. And copyrighting his program didn’t really have an effect on the ARPANET one way or the other.
More important to the technologists is that, according to them and others, most of the early developers of e-mail and the Internet did it in the hopes of creating a new system of information sharing that would make communication within their fields easier and more networked for the benefit of everyone. They, by and large, didn’t get a plug nickel for doing this and weren’t after money, copyrights or patents in the first place. They just wanted to be able to communicate quickly and exchange documents with fellow researchers in the Pentagon and at universities.
Here’s what Jim Kane, an economist who has worked with lots of technology firms, told me: “Technologists primarily are driven and motivated by recognition from their professional peers much more than by financial rewards. I strongly suspect that among all the individuals who responded to the original article there is not one among them who has financially benefited from the creation of e-mail to any significant degree.
“They would place greater value on an award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers or recognition from the National Academy of Engineering than any financial bonus from their respective companies or organizations. It’s what makes them who they are and in many ways how refreshingly honest they are to work with.
“Conversely, when they see someone making a claim for professional recognition that is inconsistent with common knowledge within that professional community their reaction is immediate and particularly strong. It’s a violation of their core principles. I believe this is very much the basis of the strong response Kolawole’s original article has generated.”
There is no "I" in "Team," but there is a "You" in "Fuck You."
I agree with Kane, and the experts’ reaction isn’t far different from a journalist’s who feels that his or her scoop was ripped off by rivals. Been there.
Now for the mistakes in my blog post. Overall, the tone was dismissive and I got some things flat wrong. I was sloppy and trying to write it up hurriedly on a Friday afternoon with too little attention to detail. And I did it after spending six hours writing my Sunday ombudsman column.
This paragraph I wrote, for instance, is wrong in several regards:
“We do know that the guy who copyrighted the terms ‘email’ and ‘e-mail’ and who developed and copyrighted some of the computer code and underpinnings of the modern versions of e-mail that we all use is an instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology named V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai. And he did some of his e-mail work when he was 14, 15 and 16 years old, as a New Jersey high school student.”
The only thing we can say for sure about Ayyadurai is that he copyrighted a computer program called “EMAIL” that was used in New Jersey for a few years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We cannot say that his code was part of the underpinnings of the modern versions of email that we all use. He did develop his program as a teenager.
Nor can we say, as I did later in the blog post that “you can also argue that as the copyright holder to ‘e-mail,’ that in a sense, he invented this thing that we all have come to call e-mail.” No, I don’t think we can say that.
I also said “I think Kolawole did her due diligence for the story.” No, I don’t think she did, and nor did I. This has been a great learning experience for Kolawole, and she has been diligent in trying to repair her mistakes since it happened. She is young, is carrying a lot of responsibility for someone her age, and one of her direct supervisors recently left The Post, but she is not making excuses to me. I’m not making any either. I just didn’t do my homework.
... so you see, if you keep making the same mistakes over and over again, people will begin to think you're stupid.
Finally, I angered a lot of smart and well-meaning people with this paragraph:
“Why is it that scientists, academics, and some readers, think that journalists and newspapers should be like academic journals and peer review every sentence that appears in print? That has never been the standard at newspapers or magazines, and it never will be. They shouldn’t expect that.”
This was unfair on my part. If I had taken a couple of hours and really absorbed all of the e-mail complaints sent to me, and read through the Internet links sent to me by people who knew better than I about the origins of electronic messaging — and there are some great resources out there on this — I would have figured out that Ayyadurai was not the inventor of e-mail, and that Kolawole’s story needed some serious revision and correction. I apologize to the true inventors of e-mail for this mistake.
So how did this happen really, in a nutshell?
V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai is a clever man, with MIT credentials, and a good sense of public relations plus a P.R. firm working with him. A press release by that P.R. firm got a young reporter/editor interested in his donation of his “EMAIL” documents to a well-respected D.C. institution, The Smithsonian’s Museum of American History. Kolawole’s interviews with Ayyadurai convinced her that he was interesting and worthy of a profile and online video interviews.
The ombudsman, me, after receiving complaints, talked to Kolawole twice about how she did the story, did some cursory research online and typed out a blog post that I now regret.
Going forward, here’s what The Post is doing. I’m doing this lengthy mea culpa to set the record straight. Kolawole has invited two experts, Thomas Haigh, a history of technology expert at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and Dave Crocker, one of the fathers of the Internet, to write their own pieces for The Post’s Innovations blog on the history of e-mail. And Ayyadurai is going to write his own piece on his early “EMAIL” program. Kolawole will also be revising her original piece to reflect the record accurately.
We hope that sets the record straight and gets The Post back to where it needs to be, on the side of truth and accuracy.
And those op-eds he and Chomsky wrote never ran in the Post.
-- Return to Sender. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai — the MIT lecturer who invented e-mail — had spent years blasting the struggling United States Postal Service for its failure to embrace the revenue potential of his creation. So when he was recruited to help save the U.S. Mail earlier this year, Ayyadurai made headlines and was suddenly a star. That’s when the trouble started. by Janelle Nanos
I want to thank these experts who helped me over the past week.
• Geoff Carpenter, of FARGOS Development, who worked for IBM Research developing network management technologies for the Internet from 1988 to 1993.
SSCI President and CEO Dr. Jim Kane to lead discussion on strengthening industry-to-government collaboration at the Systems and Software Technology Conference in Salt Lake City.
Panelists: Dr. David F. McQueeney, Chief Technology Officer, IBM Federal
-- Systems and Software Consortium, Inc. (SSCI) to host first-ever 'Industry Panel' at SSTC in Salt Lake City, by Systems and Software Consortium, Inc.
• James A. Kane, the former CEO of the Systems and Software Consortium Inc., a group of federal contractors in the I.T. field, who started his career at the Internet pioneer, Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc.
... industry insiders, loyal to Raytheon/BBN, a multi-billion dollar defense company, had created their entire brand, bearing the ‘@’ logo, based on claims of having “invented email”. This group unleashed a vicious public relations campaign. This campaign aimed to discredit email’s origins, intimidate journalists who did not parrot their claims, and assassinate Shiva’s character, while defending and promoting Raytheon/BBN’s brand as the “inventor of email” in the lucrative and competitive cyber-security market.
The leaders of these attacks included David Crocker, a member of the ARPAnet research community starting in 1972, and “historians” and “experts”, either former or current employees of Raytheon/BBN or close associates.
-- The First Email System, by Robert Field
• Peter Klosky, a software developer from Fairfax City, Va.
• Tom Moulton, an early user of the Electronic Information Exchange System
• Stuart Umpleby, a professor in the Department of Management, and director of the Research Program in Social and Organizational Learning in the School of Business at the George Washington University.
• Dave Crocker, one of the fathers of the Internet and of e-mail, of Brandenburg InternetWorking.
• Emun [DELETE] Emin Gun Sirer, associate professor of computer science at Cornell University.
And here are some links to documents tracing the history of e-mail, written by some of the early participants:
• The Technical Development of Internet Email by Craig Partridge
• The History of Electronic Mail by Tom Van Vleck
• Email history by Dave Crocker [DELETE] Bill Stewart