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Copyright 2000 The Baltimore Sun Company
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The Baltimore Sun

November 25, 2000 Saturday FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 695 words

HEADLINE: Michael John Muuss, 42, computer expert whose software had key role in Internet

BYLINE: Michael Stroh


Michael John Muuss, a multi-talented computer wizard who helped lay the foundations for the modern-day Internet, was killed Monday in an automobile accident near his home in Havre de Grace. He was 42.

A graduate of the Johns Hopkins University, Mr. Muuss spent his entire career at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, where he established a reputation as an enthusiastic problem-solver who did groundbreaking work in areas ranging from computer networks to graphics.

"He was an engineer's engineer," said Joseph Pistritto of Belmont, Calif., a longtime friend and former Hopkins classmate. "I doubt there's hardly any week he didn't put in 60 hours."

Mr. Muuss is most widely known in computing circles for being the author of a software program called "Ping."

Written in one evening in 1983, the program is one of the most widely used diagnostic tools for computer networks in the world, with a version of it included in Microsoft Windows.

"It's probably one of the most minor things he ever did in his life, but the one that most people use," Pistritto said.

In the early 1980s, Mr. Muuss' work on computer networks also helped lay the technological foundation that would transform what was then called the ARPANET, an obscure military computer network created in 1969 by the Department of Defense, into the modern-day Internet.

Mr. Muuss' interest in electronics began early. His father, Rolf Muuss of Lutherville, a professor emeritus of education at Goucher College, recalled his son building radios from kits by age 7. He got his first taste of computers as a teen-ager during a visit to the Goucher College computer center and was hooked.

Mr. Muuss exhibited an early knack for programming, quickly creating a tic-tac-toe game despite a lack of formal training. A Monopoly game he wrote as an adolescent was so good that it beat him.

"When he saw that his computer program was superior to himself, he was ecstatic," his father said.

Mr. Muuss' reputation would follow him. His work in computer security landed him a cameo appearance in Clifford Stoll's 1989 hacker classic "The Cuckoo's Egg," a nonfiction thriller about the hunt for an international band of computer criminals.

Mr. Stoll wrote: "When Mike (Muuss) talks, other wizards listen."

In 1990, Mr. Muuss was one of the government's key witnesses in the case against Robert Morris, whose software "worm" in 1988 nearly brought down the Internet.

In recent years, Mr. Muuss' research shifted to computer graphics and animation. He created a program called BRL-CAD that allowed the military to create sophisticated 3-D models. Before, the work was done using punch cards and printouts.

"It was a major breakthrough," said Chuck Kennedy of Belcamp, who had worked with Mr. Muuss in the Army Research Laboratory for almost 20 years. "He could program like you and I use the English language."

Over the years, BRL-CAD has become one of the Army's most-licensed technologies and is used to model everything from tanks to brain tumors.

Mr. Muuss, who was an avid photographer, received many awards for his technological discoveries. In 1999, he was given the Research and Development Achievement Award, the Army's highest civilian award for scientific accomplishment.

Born in Iowa City, Iowa, Mr. Muuss grew up in Lutherville. While at Towson High School, he was enrolled in a program at Johns Hopkins for gifted youth and began taking college courses. He received his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Hopkins in 1979, three years after he started.

He died while returning home from a restaurant, when his car was involved in a multivehicle pileup on Interstate 95.

Mr. Kennedy said Mr. Muuss liked to keep a list of things he wanted to accomplish in life and had crossed off most of the items on it.

"When I saw him last, he was working on his next list," Mr. Kennedy said.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Divinity Lutheran Church, 1220 Providence Road, Towson.

Besides his father, Mr. Muuss is survived by his wife, the former Susan Pohl of Edgewood; and a sister, Gretchen Frensemeier of Lutherville.

GRAPHIC: Photo(s), Michael John Muuss worked at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

LOAD-DATE: November 25, 2000

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