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Dr. Malcolm Mosher: Egyptologist to Senior Software Designer

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Malcolm Mosher talks about his life in terms of various "threads," an apt description of a life with extraordinary experiences and achievements woven over the years into a rich tapestry.

A native of Duxbury, Massachusetts, Malcolm had to leave college in 1969 for financial reasons and started driving a cab in Boston. That could have been the end of the story.


Retiree Spotlight

Instead, it was the beginning of a journey that took many interesting twists and turns, evolving from driving a cab to renowned scholar and author specializing in Ancient Egypt.

After withdrawing from Boston University, Malcolm began exploring the field of photography. He landed a job with one of the country's top photo labs and learned how to take and develop high quality photos, often black and white landscapes in the style of Ansel Adams. Both his black and white and color photos have won many top awards. (See his work here. http://mmjrphoto.com). He also began a transition from music lover to musician during this period, studying classical guitar.

Thirsting for more education, Malcolm eventually saved enough money to return to Boston University where he studied Latin and Ancient Mediterranean Studies. From there he went on to University of California, Berkeley where he earned a master's degree in Egyptology, followed by a doctorate in the same field, completed in 1990. Along the way he became proficient in nine languages, including five ancient Egyptian languages, Latin and Classical Greek.

He has become widely recognized as an expert on the Egyptian Book of the Dead during the Late Period (c.650-30 B.C.), an ancient collection of spells, charms, passwords and magical formulas based on mythology, designed to help the deceased navigate the afterlife. The texts and accompanying illustrations were primarily written on papyrus and buried in the tomb of the deceased.

Malcolm has written many scholarly articles on the topic and was invited to speak at the British Museum's Colloquium on the Book of the Dead last year. His presentation is being published in the series entitled British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan (BMSAES) and will be available online later this year.

Mosher says his fascination with the Book of the Dead dates back to his undergraduate years when he bought "an antiquated" translation. Encouraged by a BU professor, he purchased a 600-page grammar of hieroglyphs and began working his way through it.

Actually, his foray into computers began in much the same way. Discovering that the job market for Egyptologists was limited, he decided to explore the exploding field of computer science. As an advanced graduate student in a different discipline, he at first could not gain admission to upper level computer science classes because limited machine resources gave priority to undergraduate majors. To counter this, he arranged to meet an influential professor to discuss the situation. When he walked into this professor's office, he found King Tut posters on the walls, and an instant bond was created based on their shared passion for ancient Egypt. This professor allowed him access to any upper division classes if Malcolm provided his own computer.

"Doing all the assignments for these classes on an Apple II was often an exercise in self-education, because this was 1980 and no one in the computer science department knew anything about programming on an Apple," Malcolm said. "I had to figure out solutions on my own, often working all night to overcome the limits of the Apple; but, it provided invaluable experience in mastering concepts of software design and development."

In 1982, while working on the requirements for his Egyptology PhD, Malcolm landed a job with Tandem. He worked on a variety of projects until 1988 when he was assigned to the Remote Duplicate Database Facility (RDF), a disaster recovery program that monitored changes made to a database on a local primary system and replicated those changes to a database on a remote backup system.

"The product became one of the top revenue generators for Non-Stop, because it not only sold RDF software, but also all the hardware and other software for the backup system that would not have been bought without RDF," he said. Malcolm was the chief architect and implementer of RDF until 2005, earning 14 patents with RDF along the way, as well as the title Principal Member Technical Staff.

"My typical work week was 50-60 hours, sometimes even 70+ hours, but the excitement of constantly breaking new technological ground was rewarding," he said. He accepted the retirement package from HP in 2005 when much of the RDF work was sent offshore.

Retirement not only means more time to spend with his wife Ellen and son Doug, a USC grad, but also more time to work on a multi-volume work on the Book of the Dead now in progress.

Malcolm is devoting more time to music these days. He learned the play the piano at age 42 and now spends 2-3 hours each day perfecting pieces by his favorite composers, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.

Additionally, he has picked up the photography thread again. "When I took my camera out of mothballs, I discovered that film had largely been replaced with digital cameras, and that tools like Photoshop had eliminated the darkroom," he said. Now he says he is enjoying the challenge and the joy of digital photography, and he particularly appreciates the environmental benefits of digital photography. "Photography has given me the motivation to get back out in search of the magnificence of nature and do the best I can to capture it in some form," he said.

"Thanks to the HP retirement package, I now have just three threads, as well as the thread of my family," Malcolm said. "Today, my life is really a dream come true."