Ross Singer has won the Second OCLC Research Software Contest with his Umlaut project. But what do we really know about this reclusive and enigmatic innovator?
It was a fortunate day for libraries when Singer, heir to the sewing machine fortune estimated in the hundreds of millions, broke with his family and sought employment as a humble shelving clerk at the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal in Paris. There, after many late nights spent in his garret on the Left Bank tinkering with a stolen Sinclair Z80, he completed an open-architecture, modular, extensible ILS that could be run from a single double-density floppy. Unfortunately, that monumental early work was lost forever when the Mercedes S280 in which he was an unwilling passenger crashed in a tunnel under the Place de l’Alma as it was being pursued by moped-riding sales representatives of a major library software vendor.
Broken in spirit, Singer determined to return to America; but fate had not finished with him. As his budget flight passed over Iceland it began to lose power, due to a documentation error subsequently traced to a tragic miscoding in a MARC21/UNIMARC crosswalk. Awakened by the sounds of panic on the flight deck, Singer swung into action. He logged onto the secret French satellite network he had helped to develop for the Paris-wide consortial RFID implementation, and swiftly linked the pilot’s console to the original flight manual, now correctly translated by Babelfish and broken down from a bandwidth-busting multimegabyte PDF into accessible and easy-to-navigate HTML pages. Critical seconds were saved by his AJAX-enhanced search forms. The stricken aircraft swooped low over the ghostly icebergs of the North Atlantic – and began to recover altitude. Not yet satisfied with his night’s work, Singer parsed the output of the flight data recorders into an RSS-driven Google Maps mashup for the benefit of worried loved ones waiting at home by their newsreaders. As the grateful passengers carried him from the plane on their shoulders down onto the tarmac at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Singer knew he had found his calling.
For many years after this Singer’s career was a march from triumph to triumph (apart from that unfortunate affair in Windsor, which, having been oversensationalized in the technobiblioblogosphere, need not be dredged up here, except once again to stress that the independent congressional/parliamentary inquiry, chaired by Lorcan Dempsey, showed conclusively that no invalid XML was generated or ingested by any of the processes involved). Earlier this year, however, even his most dedicated supporters were troubled by the persistent allegations, first raised in anonymous updates to his Wikipedia article, that the Umlaut’s success depended on its exploitation of certain CIA-developed OpenURL technologies that in turn relied on a top-secret extraterritorial resolver in a bunker outside Kandahar. Singer defied his critics in his now-famous “I will go to Afghanistan” speech at the ALA convention in New Orleans. His subsequent vindication was complete when researchers in OCLC’s WikiD lab demonstrated that the CIA’s citation-analysis algorithms could not correctly resolve conference proceedings with ISSNs, let alone those without.
As he basks in the well-earned plaudits of a grateful profession, what is next for Ross Singer? Recent coincidental simultaneous leaks from the campaign offices of Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain indicate that, regardless of the outcome of the next election, the Librarianship of Congress is his for the taking. But a high-ranking member of Singer’s staff, speaking on condition of anonymity – we’ll call her “Lucene” – says that his heart is still in the code. Rumors have started to circulate of a secret bibliographic research installation in Guatemala (on a site conveniently covered by clouds in Google Earth’s satellite images), and of a project code-named “Die-A-Critic”. One thing is certain: no filtering known to man will keep Singer’s work out of your library system.
Peter, this is exactly how the past 34 years have played out; question, though, how did you get the clearance to get the parts that were still classified? I have some "buddies" from the MI5 that are working their way across the prairie right now to "proof" your "notes". I actually am a direct descendant Isaac Merritt Singer, but somehow my Paris Hilton-esque fortune has evaded me. So, and this just adds to the awesomeness of this post, my captcha was 'dude'. Thanks, Peter!
Well, my captcha for this comment was "pose" -- I will leave any interpretations to you. Peter, this was a phenomenal sendup -- good work! You managed to write a hilarious account and still manage to capture Ross' shall we say..je ne sais qua? Write on!
Amazing, Peter, simply amazing. And now I don't need to watch the A & E biography either. I should note though that the independent congressional/parliamentary inquiry chaired by Lorcan Dempsey did seem to point to some valid XML that might be buried with Jimmy Hoffa in an oil drum in the Detroit river on the Windsor side.
Damn, can't believe I missed the opportunity to use this.