The Hyperlink

Whenever I say that the Hyperlink changed the world, people look at me like “huh?” The lowly hyperlink is often overlooked as just a ‘feature’ of the Internet or the Web in particular. But I’ve always thought that was a bit backwards. The hyperlink is what made the web possible — it is for the Web what carbon is for carbon-based life-forms.

So I was tickled to find that Alex Wright’s excellent article on The Mundaneum Museum has this gem of a quotation from Kevin Kelly:

“The hyperlink is one of the most underappreciated inventions of the last century,” Mr. Kelly said. “It will go down with radio in the pantheon of great inventions.”

Birth of the Internet

Everybody’s linking to this article today, but I had to share a chunk of it that gave me goosebumps. It’s this bit from Leonard Kleinrock:

: September 2, 1969, is when the first I.M.P. was connected to the first host, and that happened at U.C.L.A. We didn’t even have a camera or a tape recorder or a written record of that event. I mean, who noticed? Nobody did. . . . on October 29, 1969, at 10:30 in the evening, you will find in a log, a notebook log that I have in my office at U.C.L.A., an entry which says, “Talked to SRI host to host.” If you want to be, shall I say, poetic about it, the September event was when the infant Internet took its first breath.

Vint Cerf on Al Gore's Internet Contribution

The granddaddy of the Internet clarifies a popular misconception.

Print What I’ve Learned: Vint Cerf
Al Gore had seen what happened with the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956, which his father introduced as a military bill. It was very powerful. Housing went up, suburban boom happened, everybody became mobile. Al was attuned to the power of networking much more than any of his elective colleagues. His initiatives led directly to the commercialization of the Internet. So he really does deserve credit.

Something tells me you won’t hear this quoted on Fox News. (Or from hardly anyone else, probably.)

Linnaeus' Birthday in a changing world

Boing Boing has a lovely paean saying Happy birthday, Carl Linnaeus, to the one responsible for bringing a common vocabulary (and, maybe most importantly, a system of naming) to natural science — one of the cornerstones that has helped human beings (*ahem* … “homo sapiens”) to share and codify scientific learning.

He’s, of course, a kind of patron saint of Information Architecture, where we’re all about classifying and organizing things.

But, alas, even Linneas’ dream of pristinely organized information is suffering from the realities of the post-modern world. From the Boing Boing post:

But how much longer will the Linnaean system last? Recently it has come under attack from some taxonomists who believe its structure is too inflexible to cope with the explosion of knowledge unleashed by DNA analysis. Today’s young Turks of taxonomy want to abolish the strict ranked hierarchy of family, order, class, etc. In its place they advocate “clades,” groupings that are based on genetic relationships and can be expanded, contracted or redefined as new kinships are discovered. For now, the traditionalists outnumber the iconoclasts, and Linnaean-style classification remains the gold standard.

Fascinating, that even in the seminal uber-taxonomy, there’s a kind of “tagging relativism” going on…

Maybe they need a pattern language?

Tim Berners-Lee on Web 2.0

I love this quote. When asked if Web 1.0 was about connecting computers, while Web 2.0 is about connecting people, Webfather Tim Berners-Lee said,
“Totally not. Web 1.0 was all about connecting people. It was an interactive space, and I think Web 2.0 is of course a piece of jargon, nobody even knows what it means. If Web 2.0 for you is blogs and wikis, then that is people to people. But that was what the Web was supposed to be all along. And in fact, you know, this ‘Web 2.0,’ it means using the standards which have been produced by all these people working on Web 1.0.”

Tim Berners-Lee on Web 2.0: “nobody even knows what it means”

Glass isn't a liquid… another cool thing disproven

I really loved the idea of glass being a liquid that was just moving ‘super slow.’ I first heard it from a tour guide or two in an old building somewhere, and I could swear my chemistry teacher once mentioned it. But, alas, it is not the case:

Science & Technology at Scientific American.com: Fact or Fiction?: Glass Is a (Supercooled) Liquid — Are medieval windows melting?

Why old European glass is thicker at one end probably depends on how the glass was made. At that time, glassblowers created glass cylinders that were then flattened to make panes of glass. The resulting pieces may never have been uniformly flat and workers installing the windows preferred, for one reason or another, to put the thicker sides of the pane at the bottom. This gives them a melted look, but does not mean glass is a true liquid.

Chalk this up to the same disappointment I had about lemmings, and all the Eskimo words for snow.

Why diamonds are so expensive, and romantic

This is truly astounding. It bends the mind in a Philip K Dick-like way … I realized that advertising and mass media were powerful, but when you see concrete examples like this, it’s disturbing.

This is an article from 1982 in the Atlantic Monthly that explains why, even with the glut of diamonds from South Africa, they still command such high prices, and such cultural importance (at least in many places).

Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?

The diamond invention is far more than a monopoly for fixing diamond prices; it is a mechanism for converting tiny crystals of carbon into universally recognized tokens of wealth, power, and romance. To achieve this goal, De Beers had to control demand as well as supply. Both women and men had to be made to perceive diamonds not as marketable precious stones but as an inseparable part of courtship and married life. To stabilize the market, De Beers had to endow these stones with a sentiment that would inhibit the public from ever reselling them. The illusion had to be created that diamonds were forever — “forever” in the sense that they should never be resold.