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Face the Nation
Posted on Wednesday, February 27, 2008.

The Hideous Name” makes mention of a face server, perhaps the first user-level file system. The face server's main purpose was to provide faces for vismon, which showed a face for each message in a user's (electronic) mail box. Vismon is described in Rob Pike and Dave Presotto's 1985 Usenix paper “Face the Nation.”

(The appearance of grey scale is due only to the image being shrunk. Click on the image for the full-size version.) This example shows the time, system load, a graph of cpu time, faces for the five most recent emails, and the names of the two most recent senders.

The AT&T 5620 Retrocomputing page contains a file tree used in the commercially distributed system, including the face set:

(The mailbox with the tail, labeled md, is actually mailer-daemon, but that label didn't fit.)

The faces include Brian Kernighan (bwk), Dennis Ritchie (dmr), Ken Thompson (ken), and Rob Pike (rob). Curiously, Peter Weinberger's face is missing. It was featured prominently in the paper and in many other contexts, including water towers. It is also used as the default “unknown” icon in vismon. Here it is in its two vismon instantiations:

The spirit of vismon lives on in Plan 9's faces (née seemail), Unix's faces, and OS X's MailGlance, among others.

Vismon also inspired in 1987 the creation of the Usenix FaceSaver project. Digging around in the archives you can find pictures of luminaries such as Kirk McKusick, Dennis Ritchie, Henry Spencer, and Larry Wall.

The Picons Archive has even more pictures.

(Comments originally posted via Blogger.)

  • Rklz (February 28, 2008 5:37 PM) This is most intriguing. Fox 11 seems to have used the noface icon as "Anonymous" in their documentary on 4chan.
    And owl1 and owl2 are now famous around the Net as the O RLY and YA RLY owls, respectively; "originating" at Something Awful forums. Little did I know...