PASSING> Michael Beddow (?-2019)

A. Charles Muller's picture

Michael Beddow passed away on September 2, 2019 after a three-year battle with cancer. Michael was not a Buddhologist, but since, in a certain way, he made a significant impact on Buddhist studies (especially from the perspective of online resources), I would like to acknowledge his contributions here on H-Buddhism. Michael was for almost two decades, the web developer and maintainer of the DDB and CJKV-E dictionaries, of which I am the founder and general editor.

 

As is elaborated in some detail in my recent article on the history of the DDB and CJKV-E dictionaries,[1] I had worked at compiling them in WordPerfect for several years before the advent of the WWWeb (from 1986–1994). Early in 1995, I became excited over the immense potential to be seen in creating a collaborative web-based lexicographical resource for Asian philosophy, and thus I applied myself to the task of learning the basics of HTML web site creation, and was able upload my data to create the early DDB/CJKV-E using simple hard-links in HTML. With help from Christian Wittern, I was gradually able to establish a richer source data framework using XML, based on TEI. Nonetheless, until late 1999, the DDB/CJKV-E remained published online in simple hard-linked HTML without a search engine, with only 5,000 or so entries. Hence, not that many people were yet seriously using it.

 

At that time, I was a participant in a number of online technical fora, trying to put myself through crash courses in Linux, VBA, XML, and XSLT all at once. I was making a special effort toward learning XSLT, a programming language that takes XML data and outputs it in an HTML web page. As a primary aid to the learning process, I was an active participant in the Mulberry XSLT email forum (still active). With XML and XSLT having only recently been released, I was in a somewhat unique position, being the owner of a relatively large lexicographical data set that included Sinitic scripts, Kana, Hangeul, and several alphabetically-expressed scripts. But I did not have the ability to deliver this data through web programming. The majority of rest of the membership were programmers with little or no data, so we needed each other.

 

When I first introduced my data set on the Mulberry forum, I attracted the interested of a number of skilled programmers, including engineers working for Apple, Microsoft, XMetal, and XMLSpy, who wanted to use the data as a testbed for their developing software packages.[2] To my great fortune, there was also an independent researcher who was interested in languages, lexicography, and XML, who was fascinated by the content, and wanted to take a shot at building a full web application for the DDB/CJKV-E data, including a search engine. This was Michael Beddow, a scholar of German literature and linguist, who had taught at Kings College and Leeds, who was also a first-rate web programmer and server administrator.

 

Michael took the data and built a prototype for the DDB/CJKV-E dictionaries which on surface looked pretty much the same as today's version. He wrote a Perl search script that selected single XML entries, put them through an XSLT transformation, outputting them as HTML. He also built an array of regularly updatable indexes, allowing for fast dedicated searches via Hangeul, Kana, English, etc. Over the years he added many other functions, including a separate window to view data from the Karashima glossaries, CJKV variant tables, simplified Chinese search, etc., along with an airtight security setup.[3] He implemented password setup for individual users and IP address entry for institutions. When we began to develop a sustainable financial support system based on university library subscriptions (circa 2005), I offered Michael remuneration for his work, but he refused to take a dime. He was a bodhisattva.

 

Michael was a consummate XSLT programmer, always insisting that XSLT alone could do anything needed, without the mixing in of Java and other scripts. The documentation of his Perl and XSLT code was like nothing I have ever seen--a veritable textbook for programming, which I would later use as examples in my XSLT courses at the University of Tokyo.[4] On the other hand, because of his extensive and careful documentation of his code, once something was documented, I was not permitted to ask for his help on the topic again--a strict teacher! From the time of Michael's implementation of his search engine, the DDB and CJKV-E usage and content grew exponentially, with the size of both compilations having grown from the original number of 5,000 entries to the present 130,000+. Both continue to grow rapidly, based on Michael's sustainably-built system.

 

All during this time, Michael had been playing a similar technical role in the Anglo-Norman Hub, the premiere Web dictionary for Anglo-Norman studies. He was an accomplished linguist, picking up new languages all the time. When I first met him, he was reaching a level of satisfaction in his mastery of Tagalog. After becoming involved with the DDB, Michael decided to learn Korean (on his own). Within three years, he was enjoying popular Korean dramas without subtitles--a level of Korean language mastery I have never approached. He had immense curiosity as a scholar, and his involvement with the DDB led him to develop a fascination for Buddhist logic and other topics, and he began to engage with me in deep discussions on logic and other important Buddhist doctrinal issues.

 

Michael knew of his illness starting a few years ago, and kept up his work on the DDB up until only a few months ago. His private mails to me detailing the development of his disease were done with an air of objective analysis that amazed me throughout. A good friend, a great scholar, superb teacher, an earnest and unselfish man. I will miss him greatly.

 

Notes

 

[1] Muller, A. Charles. 2019. “The Digital Dictionary of Buddhism and CJKV-English Dictionary: A Brief History.”  In Veidlinger, Daniel, ed. Digital Humanities and Buddhism: An Introduction. Berlin, Boston:  De Gruyter. 143–156 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110519082-009

 

[2] I provided the DDB data to these companies, and in most cases rarely received so much as a simple "thank you."

 

[3] Michael was a bit of a security fanatic, to the extent that when he detected someone trying to hack the system, he would invariably track them down, which would often enable me to write to either the perpetrator individually or at least to his network administrator.

 

[4] The very fact of my getting a position at UTokyo was based in great part on the existence and popularity of DDB, so without Michael, the Tōdai job would probably have never happened for me.

Categories: Obituary

A colleague on Mulberry-XSL has located Michael Beddow's DOB, which was 1947.