The Numismatic Bibliomania Society

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The E-Sylum: Volume 23, Number 12, March 22, 2020, Article 31

LARRY BRILLIANT, NUMISMATIC INTERNET PIONEER

I've met and known a lot of great people in my time on this planet, and it's always nice to hear about an old friend. Here's a timely WIRED article about one such gentleman who is very much in the news these days. -Editor

Dr. Larry Brilliant
Dr. Larry Brilliant

LARRY BRILLIANT SAYS he doesn't have a crystal ball. But 14 years ago, Brilliant, the epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox, spoke to a TED audience and described what the next pandemic would look like. At the time, it sounded almost too horrible to take seriously. "A billion people would get sick," he said. "As many as 165 million people would die. There would be a global recession and depression, and the cost to our economy of $1 to $3 trillion would be far worse for everyone than merely 100 million people dying, because so many more people would lose their jobs and their health care benefits, that the consequences are almost unthinkable."

Now the unthinkable is here, and Brilliant, the Chairman of the board of Ending Pandemics, is sharing expertise with those on the front lines. We are a long way from 100 million deaths due to the novel coronavirus, but it has turned our world upside down. Brilliant is trying not to say "I told you so" too often. But he did tell us so, not only in talks and writings, but as the senior technical advisor for the pandemic horror film Contagion, now a top streaming selection for the homebound. Besides working with the World Health Organization in the effort to end smallpox, Brilliant, who is now 75, has fought flu, polio, and blindness; once led Google's nonprofit wing, Google.org; co-founded the conferencing system the Well; and has traveled with the Grateful Dead.

To read the complete article, see:
The Doctor Who Helped Defeat Smallpox Explains What's Coming (https://www.wired.com/story/coronavirus-interview-larry-brilliant-smallpox-epidemiologist/)

Dr. Brilliant is not only a numismatist and E-Sylum subscriber, he founded one of the earliest numismatic online discussion forums. Back in November, 2001 I wrote about my experience working with him. -Editor

FIRST COIN CHAT ROOM?

On page B1 of the November 8th Wall Street Journal is an article about Dr. Larry Brilliant and his work against smallpox in India. The last paragraph mentions that "he had a role in founding several online and broadband companies". One of those companies had a numismatic connection.

When I worked at Bell Labs in New Jersey during the early 80's, I moonlighted as a consultant for Dr. Brilliant's company, which was based in Ann Arbor, MI at the time. He had hooked up with a couple hackers who ran a bulletin board system on a server in one of their homes. They created an interactive conferencing system with many elements of today's chat rooms and newsgroups. I did testing and commented on user interface design. It was a plain scrolling text interface that you could dial in to via the GTE Telnet network.

The company was initially called MarketNet, Inc., and later Network Technologies Inc., or NETI. Larry was a coin collector and knew dealer Joseph Lepczyk, whom I believe became an investor in the firm. Hoping to unseat the standard coin dealer teletype system, they created a system called CENTS for buying, selling, and discussing numismatic items online. CENTS stood for "Complete Electronic Numismatic Trading Systems." It was through the numismatic connection that I became involved.

The company later had some sales to groups like AT&T's Legal Dept., which used it as groupware to discuss legal documents. But the system was way ahead of its time and failed, because in those days long before the popularization of the Internet, there were still only a handful of first adopters with PCs and modems having the capability to dial in. We geeks thought it was the bee's knees, but it went nowhere. Larry closed the company, but moved to San Francisco and ended up cofounding The Well with Stuart Brand (of Whole Earth Catalog fame), this time creating the first commercially successful online community.

In my library I have copies of the user documentation for the system and a handful of scrolled paper printouts documenting some interactive sessions. In one, Larry Brilliant wrote: "It was a real treat to be able to sign on to the system via satellite from Kathmandu, Nepal. We are making world history with the longest distance coin deal ever ..... wonderful." (August 15th, 1983).

To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
FIRST COIN CHAT ROOM? (https://www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v04n46a09.html)
THE E-SYLUM, NUMISMATISTS AND TECHNOLOGY PIONEERS (https://www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v10n03a06.html)



Wayne Homren, Editor

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To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor at this address: whomren@gmail.com

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