Tribute to David L. Mills

Internet Pioneer, Father Time, W3HCF

3 Jun 1938 - 17 Jan 2024

To honor and perpetuate Dave's legacy and efforts, with the blessings of his family, donations to the Mills-Spring Fund at Network Time Foundation are welcome and appreciated.

Deck us all with Boston Charlie
Wala, Wala Wash., an' Kalamazoo!

Remembering Father Time

On 17 Jan 2024, David L. Mills unexpectedly passed from this time dimension, and the world lost a most remarkable man.

As an Internet pioneer, around 1980 he took on the challenge of synchronizing the time on network devices, as noone else was working on that problem and he had an interest in time and calendars. That interest turned into a lifetime of RFCs, protocol design, and education which you, and the devices you depend on, benefit from daily. Well into his 80s, Prof. Mills was actively working on the next generation of the NTP protocol and its security at the time of his passing.

Despite his vision impairment due to primary congenital glaucoma,his contributions were profound. A teacher at a high school for the blind in San Mateo, CA once told him, "Mills, you are never going to get to college!" That statement was akin to waving a red cape in front of a bull! Dave not only got to college, he completed his doctorate in computer and communications science at UMich and became an emeritus professor in the departments of electrical and computer engineering and computer and information sciences at UDel.

Dave also had a family and a sense of (nerdy) humor. His daughter recalls that as a young child she would visit his office at the University of Michigan. The room contained a data concentrator that was “protected” by a large stuffed bear. This is the story of that bear: At that time, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) was emphasizing how cute their products were (relative to IBM mainframes) in an ad campaign featuring a toy stuffed bear. So, he placed an order for one Ursus Theodorus, part number and price to be determined. The local DEC office thought this was pretty funny, so they forwarded a formal purchase order for one stuffed bear as per advertised to their corporate offices in Maynard, Massachusetts. Well, the rest is history and the bear in the photo has a DEC part number and identification tag.

David L. Mills, in the words of those who knew him

“Dr. Mills' pioneering work on NSFnet “Fuzzball” routers and early routing protocols to connect disparate networks played a big part in establishing what became the Internet. His decades of narrower focus on the Network Time Protocol’s clever algorithms and reference implementation software have enabled orders of magnitude improvements in internet timekeeping over imperfect links."

Dave Hart, volunteer developer

“After working with NTP for some time, I first came into direct contact with Dave via email in 2001. I was always impressed by his careful and far-sighted way of working and his way of expressing himself. His wording was often figurative, but always conveyed exactly what he meant. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to meet him in person, but I will always cherish his memory."

Martin Burnicki, Software engineer at Meinberg