Happy Unix-Based Mallet Day, August 14
Posted on 2005-08-14 07:15:15, last modified: 2014-08-23 09:23:05

This post is solely for the 3 other people in the universe who might wonder what a really arcane entry--"First Unix-based mallet created"--in the BSD calendar files means.

History: since forever, BSD and various other *nixes have included a group of text files in /usr/share/calendar with various important, notable, or just interesting-to-the-authors dates in history. One of the files is US holidays, one is US History, one has famous people's birthdays, and one, calendar.computer, has trivia about the timeline of computer development. It often also has the birthdays of the of the folks who wrote much of the code for FreeBSD, although usually in the form of "name year email address@freebsd.org."

I know about this because all Macintosh computers sold since about 2001, including my iBook, include the FreeBSD-based OS X, and therefore all have the calendar files, including calendar.computer.

Tip: if you have a mac and know what the terminal is, open it and type

"grep MM/YY /usr/share/calendar/cal*"
replacing MM/YY with today's date, to get a handy list of things that happened on that date. (If you're using an early OSX, calendar may be located in another directory...)

Anyway, the trivia for August 14 includes this cryptic entry: "First Unix-based mallet created, 1954." I wondered what this was, and tried a Google search for "Unix-based mallet," which turned up mostly questions asked by a guy from Louisville on various newsgroups around the internet about this very same entry, and one bad guess that it had something to do with French steam engines. Interestingly to me (and probably only me), the former's last name was Marcum (probably a distant relative) and he was using an Iglou account (my favorite flavor of KY ISP).

Giving up on an elegant solution, I decided to brute-force it, and began clicking all the links google returned, even the ones that looked entirely unrelated. Clicking on http://www.mv.com/users/mem/gb/guests.html" lead me to the page "about mem," wherein the author of the page says "I am tickled by the fact that my birthday is noted in the calendar file distributed with many versions of UNIX these days."

Unfortunately for me, the author is only listed as "mem" on this page, and I totally missed that he'd been the first to sign his own guestbook. Anyway, he's also noted to be one of the founders of "The oldest ISP in NH," and to have worked as a kitchen boy at Bob Cousy's basketball camp in the late '60's. Random further clicking led to a page with a full bio of Mark E. Mallet, who was born in 1954, and who is the "First Unix-based mallet," due to his early work on ISPs and connections to (probably) someone at Harvard who was adding data to Calendar pages.

So, assuming Google finds this blog entry, here's a difinitive answer to the question "what does 'First Unix-based mallet, 1954' mean?'

And if you're one of the 3 other people who were wondering this, feel free to drop me a line at "epw" at this domain.

update: Wade found the page (thanks for the note!) and it occurred to me that Wikpedia might be a good place for this sort of explanation, so I created an entry there.

update: 2014-08-23 Got a note from Hugo, with some handy links for anyone looking into this in 2014. Wikipedia didn't like my entry, and some of the links I found in 2005 are no longer functional. Rather than rewrite the article above, I think I'll just quote his work, which was thorough and handy:

Hi Pen

I stumbled across your page [1] explaining the entry in calendar(1) after my OpenBSD and FreeBSD systems notified me earlier this month, leaving me scratching my head.

Thanks for writing it up!

It looks like 'Maxim' deleted your Wikipedia page [2] 23 June 2008 for being 'Non-notable info', and Mr Mallet's bio [3] at mv.com is no longer available since MV Communications' shutdown [4] around mid-2011 it seems. But luckily archive.org had a copy [5]. (The guestbook link [6] is still online).

Take care!


  1. http://www.treespotting.com/one.php?nid=214
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unix-based_mallet
  3. http://www.mv.com/mv/enh/about-mv/history.shtml
  4. http://web.archive.org/web/20110926185245/http://wiki.mv.net/ShuttingDown
  5. http://web.archive.org/web/20110927045204/http://www.mv.com/mv/enh/about-mv/history.shtml
  6. http://www.mv.com/users/mem/gb/guests.html

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