Kit Powell's address at Paul's funeral

Whilst it would be flattering to think that Paul came to Britain from the US for the chance of working with us on our new Multics system at Bristol, in fact the attraction was Ann. Still, Paul interviewed me in a bar in Boston in 1979 or 80 and soon Bristol and Bath Universities had their own genuine Multician working for them.

Paul worked in the Open Plan Office in Oldbury House, which at one time or another also housed Alan Williams, Neil Davies, Rob Bradshaw, James Metcalfe, and Alan Chambers. It was a powerful assembly of talent and enthusiasm, as well as a potent cocktail of experience and personalities.

At that time British universities had come up with the bright idea of devising new network protocols, making their availability mandatory on the computers they bought, then getting the manufacturers to pay us for implementing them. In the US, Paul had been working on the Multics Fortran compiler, but in Bristol he started working on the Blue Book file transfer protocol, bringing outstanding programming skills and a deep knowledge of how Multics worked, and was supposed to be used. Paul went on to work on the Red Book job transfer protocol, which was important in allowing use of large-scale remote computing resources, like the ICL 2980 at Bath, at a time when interactive access was not widely available.

Paul also shared in the Multics operating system administration and maintenance. Like all of us, he enjoyed fiddling with the system's many tuning parameters to try to improve performance. Paul had a rule that changing any tuning parameter in any direction will produce a short-term perceived improvement in performance in any system; Friday afternoons could be fun. He could also not only get the single, double, and escaped quotes right first time in a command line with regular expressions containing strings including quotes, but could write down lucidly how to do it.

Having vigourously, and ultimately successfully, resisted conversion to an IBM VM/CMS systems programmer when Multics was replaced in 1988, Paul spent the rest of his time at the University working mainly in networking. He set up and managed our IP routers, and later the firewalls, as well as the dial-up server, so all the University's network access was in Paul's hands, and they were safe hands.

Paul had an unprejudiced, though healthily sceptical, attitude to users. When they asked for something his response wasn't "Why?" but "Why not?". People would accept some unwelcome restriction or control imposed by him, because they knew he wouldn't do it if it wasn't necessary. He was also exceptionally good with the undergraduates, and was the fairy godmother of the student computer society, persuading us to do things for them that we might otherwise have refused.

Paul ran our usenet news service, which was only right, as this was the medium in which his personality, wisdom, knowledge, and humour seemed to find their most ready expression. Happily, as long as the disks carry on spinning in the Googleplex much of what he wrote should be preserved. Look at Google groups and going back 14 years you'll find Paul writing about an extraordinary range of subjects, including hi-fi, politics, GPS, photography, Cisco router administration, stopping smoking (a lot about that), programming languages, and skiing. He's lucid, honest, erudite, funny, and fair, not laying down the law but asking for and giving information, opinions, and advice by interacting with other people.

Though Paul had many interests cycling, and cycling with Ann, seemed to be the most important, and the majority of Paul's on-line writing was about cycling: technical information, opinions about equipment, gears, dealing with dogs, reports of trips and tours, commentary on other road users, encouragement for beginners, and help with problems are only some of them.

He must have covered tens of thousands of miles on his Brooks saddle: the length of Britain, twice, France, and in stages over a number of years, the US continental divide. He and Ann had only just returned in August from the latest leg in their current journey across the US on the Lewis and Clark route, in a group called the Divide Ride Dogs. Paul had made many many friends on these trips and through the touring list at

Though Paul held serious views on serious subjects, he never bothered to say things just for the sake of saying something. But when he did speak, what he said was well-reasoned and firmly based on reason, knowledge, and experience.

Paul made a difference to the lives of a lot of people, most of whom he never met; and through the computers and networks he worked with he will continue to do so.

Back to text of service |  Gillian's contribution |  Bob's contribution | Obituary notice