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Posts Tagged ‘web

“Knowledge, like air, is vital to life. Like air, no one should be denied it.”*…


Belgian information activist Paul Otlet (1927)

More than a century ago, Belgian information activist Paul Otlet envisioned a universal compilation of knowledge and the technology to make it globally available. He foresaw, in other words, some of the possibilities of today’s Web.

Otlet’s ideas provide an important pivot point in the history of recording knowledge and making it accessible. In classical times, the best-known example of the knowledge enterprise was the Library of Alexandria. This great repository of knowledge was built in the Egyptian city of Alexandria around 300 BCE by Ptolemy I and was destroyed between 48 BCE and 642 CE, supposedly by one or more fires. The size of its holdings is also open to question, but the biggest number that historians cite is 700,000 papyrus scrolls, equivalent to perhaps 100,000 modern books…

Any hope of compacting all we know today into 100,000 books—or 28 encyclopedic volumes—is long gone. The Library of Congress holds 36 million books and printed materials, and many university libraries also hold millions of books. In 2010, the Google Books Library Project examined the world’s leading library catalogs and databases. The project, which scans hard copy books into digital form, estimated that there are 130 million existing individual titles. By 2013, Google had digitized 20 million of them.

This massive conversion of books to bytes is only a small part of the explosion in digital information. Writing in the Financial Times, Stephen Pritchard notes that humanity generated almost 2 trillion gigabytes of varied data in 2011, an amount projected to double every two years, forming a growing trove of Big Data available on about 1 billion websites… Search engines let us trek some distance into this world, but other approaches can allow us to explore it more efficiently or deeply. A few have sprung up. Wikipedia, for instance, classifies Web content under subject headings…

But there is a bigger question: Can we design an overall approach that would reduce the “static” and allow anyone in the world to rapidly pinpoint and access any desired information? That’s the question Paul Otlet raised and answered—in concept if not in execution. Had he fully succeeded, we might today have a more easily navigable Web.

Otlet, born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1868, was an information science pioneer. In 1895, with lawyer and internationalist Henri La Fontaine, he established the International Institute of Bibliography, which would develop and distribute a universal catalog and classification system. As Boyd Rayward writes in the Journal of Library History, this was “no more and no less than an attempt to obtain bibliographic control over the entire spectrum of recorded knowledge.”…

The remarkable story in full at: “The internet before the internet: Paul Otlet’s Mundaneum.”

* Alan Moore, V for Vendetta


As we try to comprehend comprehensiveness, we might recall that it was on this date in 1985 that the first .com Internet domain, symbolics.com, was registered by Symbolics, a now-defunct Massachusetts computer company.



Written by LW

March 15, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The gods keep livelihood hidden from men. Otherwise a day’s labor could bring man enough to last a whole year with no more work.”*…


Ind Rev

Upheaval more than a century into the Industrial Revolution, and more than 100 years ago:
An International Workers of the World union demonstration
in New York City in 1914. Credit: Library of Congress


As automation and artificial intelligence technologies improve, many people worry about the future of work. If millions of human workers no longer have jobs, the worriers ask, what will people do, how will they provide for themselves and their families, and what changes might occur (or be needed) in order for society to adjust?

Many economists say there is no need to worry. They point to how past major transformations in work tasks and labor markets – specifically the Industrial Revolution during the 18th and 19th centuries – did not lead to major social upheaval or widespread suffering. These economists say that when technology destroys jobs, people find other jobs…

They are definitely right about the long period of painful adjustment! The aftermath of the Industrial Revolution involved two major Communist revolutions, whose death toll approaches 100 million. The stabilizing influence of the modern social welfare state emerged only after World War II, nearly 200 years on from the 18th-century beginnings of the Industrial Revolution.

Today, as globalization and automation dramatically boost corporate productivity, many workers have seen their wages stagnate. The increasing power of automation and artificial intelligence technology means more pain may follow. Are these economists minimizing the historical record when projecting the future, essentially telling us not to worry because in a century or two things will get better?…

We should listen not only to economists when it comes to predicting the future of work; we should listen also to historians, who often bring a deeper historical perspective to their predictions. Automation will significantly change many people’s lives in ways that may be painful and enduring.

Get a start on understanding that history at “What the Industrial Revolution Really Tells Us About the Future of Automation and Work.”

* Hesiod, Work and Days


As we hum “Hi Ho, Hi Ho,” we might send ink-stained birthday greetings to Richard March Hoe; he was born on this date in 1812.  In 1847, he patented the rotary printing press.  Hoe had invented the press a couple of years earlier and improved it before submission. His creation greatly increased the speed of printing, as it involved rolling a cylinder over stationary plates of inked type, using the cylinder to make an impression on paper– thus eliminating the need to make impressions from pressing type plates, which were heavy and difficult to maneuver.  In 1871, Hoe added the ability to print to continuous rolls of paper, creating the “web press” that revolutionized newspaper and magazine printing.  His first customer was Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune.

Hoe’s “web perfecting press,” with continuous feed



Written by LW

September 12, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Don’t believe anything you read on the net. Except this. Well, including this, I suppose.”*…


Just a month ago, it was revealed that Facebook has more than two billion active monthly users. That means that in any given month, more than 25% of Earth’s population logs in to their Facebook account at least once.

This kind of scale is almost impossible to grasp.

Here’s one attempt to put it in perspective: imagine Yankee Stadium’s seats packed with 50,000 people, and multiply this by a factor of 40,000. That’s about how many different people log into Facebook every month worldwide.

The Yankee Stadium analogy sort of helps, but it’s still very hard to picture. The scale of the internet is so great, that it doesn’t make sense to look at the information on a monthly basis, or even to use daily figures.

Instead, let’s drill down to just what happens in just one internet minute…

More at “What Happens in an Internet Minute in 2017?

And for a cogent consideration of what all this might mean, see “You Are the Product.”

* Douglas Adams


As we retreat behind the firewall, we might recall that it was on this date in 1980 that The Project Chess team at IBM showed a prototype microcomputer to their corporate management. Management gave approval– and a one-year deadline– for the team to build an operational computer to compete in the rapidly emerging personal computer market. One year and 4 days later, the IBM PC was introduced to the world… and the rest is history.



Written by LW

August 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest”*…


Jacques Louis David’s The Death of Socrates

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy may be the most interesting website on the internet. Not because of the content—which includes fascinating entries on everything from ambiguity to zombies—but because of the site itself.

Its creators have solved one of the internet’s fundamental problems: How to provide authoritative, rigorously accurate knowledge, at no cost to readers. It’s something the encyclopedia, or SEP, has managed to do for two decades.

The internet is an information landfill. Somewhere in it—buried under piles of opinion, speculation, and misinformation—is virtually all of human knowledge. But sorting through the trash is difficult work. Even when you have something you think is valuable, it often turns out to be a cheap knock-off.

The story of how the SEP is run, and how it came to be, shows that it is possible to create a less trashy internet—or at least a less trashy corner of it. A place where actual knowledge is sorted into a neat, separate pile instead of being thrown into the landfill. Where the world can go to learn everything that we know to be true. Something that would make humans a lot smarter than the internet we have today…

An alternative to crowd-sourced, crowd-funded publishing that’s true to the ideals of the web– and that works:  “This free online encyclopedia has achieved what Wikipedia can only dream of.”

* Benjamin Franklin


As we rethink querying Quora, we might spare a thought for “The Sage of Baltimore,” Henry Louis (H.L.) Mencken; he died on this date in 1956…  The author of The American Language (and many, many other things) is credited with having coined the term “ecdysiast,” in response to a request from a practitioner who requested a “more dignified” way to refer to her profession.

Often called “the American Nietzsche” (by virtue of his scholarship on the German philosopher), Mencken might better have been considered “the American Wilde”; consider:

Democracy is the theory that holds that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.

Nature abhors a moron.

Puritanism – The haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.



Written by LW

January 29, 2017 at 1:01 am

“It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done”*…


There’s a war being waged in the dark corners of the internet. On one side are kleptomaniac pirates hiding in secret communities. On the other side is the law.

For most people, piracy is a simple affair: Movie streaming sites, dubious music blogs – maybe a quick trip to The Pirate Bay if they’re feeling adventurous.

But beneath the surface lies a hidden network of “trackers”, invite-only sites with staggering libraries and stringent invite-only entry requirements. And they’re engaged in a constant game of cat-and-mouse with law enforcement…

The story of the most famously-exclusive tracker around, a site devoted to sharing the secrets of (equally-famously secretive) magicians: “Art of Misdirection is the world’s most exclusive website, and it’s dedicated to illegally sharing magic.”

* Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky


As we take care of that rabbit in the hat, we might spare a thought for Frank Caesar; he died on this date in 1948.  The son of a Minneapolis book binder, Caesar became interested in magic after seeing Alexander Herrmann in 1889.  A year later he was touring America as a magician. In 1896 he began performing a “Trunk Substitution,” a gag that Caesar created himself (though likely based on an earlier variation developed by John Nevil Maskelyne, an older stage magician who also invented the pay toilet); the routine became most famous as performed by harry Houdini and his assistant/wife Bess.  Still, it was Caesar’s trademark through a vaudeville career that lasted into the 1920s– after which, he became a manufacturer of magic tricks/equipment.



Written by LW

December 8, 2016 at 1:01 am

“This is one of those cases in which the imagination is baffled by the facts”*…



A couple of years ago we visited Little Sis (the opposite of Big Brother)– “Those in power must spend a lot of time laughing at us“…  The site has added a nifty new feature, Oligrapher, a tool for visualizing networks of influence using LittleSis data.

Map your own webs of power.

* Adam Smith


As we we note again that it’s all about who you know, we might wish a Buon Compleanno to Luigi Pirandello, the dramatist and novelist best remembered for Six Characters in Search of an Author.  He was born on this date in 1867, turned to writing when the family sulphur mines failed, and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934.

The Author, Found

Written by LW

June 28, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were”*…


Click your way down memory lane at Ilya Kreymer‘s Oldweb.today: choose a browser and date from the past, enter a URL (that was around then), and see how that site actually looked back then

* Marcel Proust


As we play in the past, we might send carefully-computed birthday greetings to Grace Brewster Murray Hopper.  A seminal computer scientist and Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy, “Amazing Grace” (as she was known to many in her field) was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer (in 1944), invented the first compiler for a computer programming language, and was one of the leaders in popularizing the concept of machine-independent programming languages– which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first high-level programming languages.

She has both a ship (the guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper) and a super-computer (the Cray XE6 “Hopper” at NERSC) named in her honor.




Written by LW

December 9, 2015 at 1:01 am

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