File /Humanist.vol22.txt, message 632

From: Humanist Discussion Group <>
Date: Tue, 24 Mar 2009 06:02:01 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: [Humanist]  22.645 looking back & speeding along

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 645.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to:

  [1]   From:    Willard McCarty <>          (27)
        Subject: where humans have never gone before

  [2]   From:    James Rovira <>                       (9)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] Re: 22.641 looking back

  [3]   From:    Willard McCarty <>          (33)
        Subject: ease and speed of access, and a gazillion books

  [4]   From:    "Michael S. Hart" <>                       (202)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist]  22.643 looking back & finding a difference

  [5]   From:    Siobhan King <>                   (93)
        Subject: RE: [Humanist]  22.643 looking back & finding a difference

        Date: Mon, 23 Mar 2009 11:04:04 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: where humans have never gone before

 From Herman Goldstine, The Computer from Pascal to von Neumann 
(Princeton, 1972), pp. 145-7:

> Let us start the discussion by stating categorically that without the
> speed made possible only by electronics our modern computerized
> society would have been impossible: machines that can do as much as
> ten or twenty or thirty or even a hundred humans are very important
> but do not revolutionize modern society. They are extremely valuable
> and help greatly to ease the burden on humans, but they do not make
> possible an entirely new way of life....
> This is then the whole point of the modern machines. It is not simply
> that they expedite highly tedious, burdensome, and lengthy
> calculations being done by humans or electromechanical machines. It
> is that they make possible what could never be done before! The
> electronic principle did much more than free men from the loss of
> hours like slaves in the labor of calculating; it also enabled them
> to conceive and execute what could not ever be done by men alone. It
> is what made possible putting men on the moon -- and bringing others
> back safely from an abortive trip there.



Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London,;
Editor, Humanist,;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews,

        Date: Mon, 23 Mar 2009 10:33:31 -0400
        From: James Rovira <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] Re: 22.641 looking back
        In-Reply-To: <>

I really appreciate these comments.  I go to JSTOR first too, or at
least used to when I worked at institutions who subscribed to JSTOR (I
want to hang myself now.  My local facking library in Casselberry, FL
had JSTOR access).

I haven't read a word that translates into anything other than ease
and speed of access.

People with 1 billion books on their computer will actually read how
many of them?

Jim R

        Date: Mon, 23 Mar 2009 15:09:50 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: ease and speed of access, and a gazillion books
        In-Reply-To: <>

James Rovira just commented,

> I haven't read a word that translates into anything other than ease
> and speed of access.
> People with 1 billion books on their computer will actually read how
> many of them?

Ok, one at a time.

Ease and speed of access. I go back to Turing's 1936 paper, "On 
computable numbers", where on p. 231 he proposes that we think as follows:

> We may compare a man in the process of computing a real number to a
> machine which is only capable of a finite number of conditions....

In other words he begins with what a human being does and models a class 
of automata on him that does what we do, i.e. counts in discrete steps. 
Fast forward a bit and you have people writing software that does what 
we could do if only we had enough time. So, only speed, but within the 
framework of an isolated Turing Machine. In other words, we can speak of 
"only speed" (i.e. not new) if we ignore the reality of the world we 
live in, which for us is defined by human temporal scale and a computing 
that interacts with the world, including with other computers.  You 
could say (to speak in terms of an analogous argument) that the world is 
merely atoms and the void, but if you start there, with only atoms and 
the void, what can you say about anything significantly more complex, 
such as life?

A billion books. Isn't "reading" as we idealize it (one line at a time, 
first page to last page) the wrong word for how one then interacts with 
and learns from a mass of text?


Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London,;
Editor, Humanist,;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews,

        Date: Mon, 23 Mar 2009 11:24:03 -0700 (PDT)
        From: "Michael S. Hart" <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist]  22.643 looking back & finding a difference
        In-Reply-To: <>

In response to several comments about how eBooks may or may not
change the world more or less than The Gutenberg Press.

My own opinion, as the inventor of eBooks, has always been that
eBooks will change the world as much as The Gutenberg Press and
I personally think The Gutenberg Press is actually underrated--
that it changed the world even more than most people think.

I will list the steps of each below, along with a few comments.

Giving Full Credit to Gutenberg's Printing Press

First of all, though, let me start by giving credit where it is
due in terms of The Gutenberg Press' role in our civilization.

One of the most obvious impacts was the creation of more books,
literally, in the first 50 years or so of The Gutenberg Presses
than had ever existed in all previous world history.

There is certainly no honest way to underestimate that effect.

In turn, the literacy rate, which had hovered around 1% for era
after era after era, suddenly got out of the hands of elitist's
provenance and into the hands of commoners.

This provided the basis for educational revolution that went on
to create "The Scientific Revolution" that in turn created "The
Industrial Revolution" which in turn created our civilization.

However, The Gutenberg Press had a more direct role in creating
The Industrial Revolution in that it was the very first example
of "Mass Production," and of "assembly line work," and, perhaps
most importantly to the world of technology, it heralded starts
of what are called "interchangeable parts."  I should be remiss
if I didn't also mention that The Gutenberg Press incorporated,
in its own way, compound leverage to operate the press.  It was
also a major contribution of Herr Gutenberg to make advances in
metallurgy that also contributed greatly to later inventions.

Each of these concepts:

Mass Production
Assembly Line Work
Interchangeable Part
Compound Leverage
Metallurgy Advances

are literally a key element in creating Industrial Revolutions,
literally for centuries to come.

After all, Henry Ford usually gets assembly line credit.

Winchester, et. al. get credit for interchangeable parts.

And no major historians think far enough ahead, or behind, from
any perspective, to give Gutenberg any credit at all in the new
Industrial Revolution 300 years later.

However, as soon as you look at that short list above it should
become more than obvious that Gutenberg deserves more credit in
a handful of major categories.

Back to the Future

How "big" ARE eBooks. . .really???

Now, to answer the questions raised earlier more directly.

First, please let me throw out a few Google search results:

157,000,000 for ebook OR ebooks.

111,000,000 for bomb OR bombs.

Not bad for something that didn't even exist 40 years ago.

This is merely to point out that while the media pooh poohs the
whole eBook thing on a regular basis, the fact is in the worlds
more open media eBooks are mentioned more than bombs.

This is really something considering the recent bombing sprees,
literally over the past decade or more.

Now, having mentioned that to get your attention back, I should
now like to give my own answer to the recent questions posted.

No, not everyone is going to agree with me about the order I am
putting them in, I am much more partial to local storage than I
am to "cloud computing."

Thus, I consider the advent of the $99 outboard USB terabytes a
monumental event in the history of eBooks.

After all, the average computer today costs $500, then doubling
the price by adding 5 terabyte drives, allows anyone to own the
entire available collections of eBooks on the Internet.

10+ million eBooks!!!


8.x Million from Google
1.3 Million from Internet Archive
  .5 Million from World Public Library[Costs $8.95 to subscribe]
  .1 Million from Project Gutenberg
==========10  Million Total

and that's not even counting any of the national efforts from a
number of countries, The Library of Congress, Gallica, etc.

Not to mention that thousands are being added every day.

And using .zip files, you can put 12.5 million eBooks on drives
totalling 5 terabytes, at one million characters per book.

Now I realize that not everyone feels the same way about OWNING
YOUR OWN LIBRARY that literally has more books than any but the
dozen or two largest libraries in the world.

However, I grew up in a family where the most important things,
besides us, were books, music and art.

The average U.S. public library has about 32,000 books.

You can buy a 32 megabyte USB thumbdrive/pendrive for $50, then
WEAR an entire library of books on a lanyard or a keychain.

If you do not value such things, there is no reason to go on...
and if you do, then you are already likely convinced.

The Modern Day Effect of eBooks

My goal, and that of Project Gutenberg, is to get the most book
files to the most people. . .period.

Here is how we plan to do it, and the desired effects:

So many people as why Project Gutenberg like "plain text" along
with all the fancier markup formats.

The reason is that plain text eBooks can be read by any program
on any hardware with very very few exceptions.


The iPod was only out a week before programs circulated to read
plain text Project Gutenberg eBooks.

The iPhone reads them, too.

Even MP3 players can read them on their tiny little screens and
they do, I should add, we just put a script to reformat for MP3
players in yesterday's Project Gutenberg Newsletter.

However, when people talk about these, they are missing things.

There are over 4.2 billion active cellphones in the world, says
the United Nations, vastly more than the 1+ billion computers.

Compare this to the one million total Kindle and Sony readers--
and you might start to realize where the future lies.

Therefore Project Gutenberg eBooks have been available for some
cellphones for years, and more kinds every few months.

Next month we will be unveiling an automated cellphone services
conversion program at

Just log in, ask for the eBook you want, and you get it seconds
later, depending on your connection, etc.

This is the wave of the future. . .The Digital Divide conquered
by the lowly cellphone, as twice as many people already have an
active cellphone as do not, and the number without is shrinking
at a truly amazing rate.

By 2020 just about anyone who wants a cellphone will have one.

And, they will be able to read books out loud to you with ease,
just as they play their ringtones, MP3's and everything else.

People will be able to learn to read without anyone teaching.

Their phone will teach them by reading out loud to them as they
read along on the screen.

In fact, next week Project Gutenberg is releasing a program for
just that purpose, though it doesn't run on phones yet.

It is called "The Lincoln Reader," after President Lincoln, who
learned to read in his log cabin from Shakespeare and a Bible.

This will be much easier, of course, with pictures to describe,
and definitions to accentuate, the words in the texts as voices
read the text out loud.

It's not perfect, but it could take a person up to a 5th grade,
perhaps 6th grade, reading level in a very short time.

This version uses "Microsoft Anna" thus requiring Vista, but it
is also available with a professional human voice for $9.95.

What Will the Effects Be???

Obviously the first effect will be an increase in literacy just
as it was with The Gutenberg Press, followed by more education.

People who lived outside the realm of decent schools systems in
many parts of the world will simply show up out of the blue and
be well read. . .it will change everything.

No longer will they be dependent on others to teach them.

No longer will others be able to make them stay dependent quite
so forcefully by NOT teaching them.

Literacy and education will escape the boundaries of centuries,
just as they did in the days of The Gutenberg Press.

The results will be a new revolution in education, then science
and technology, just as it was after The Gutenberg Press.

Then will come "The Neo-Industrial Revolution" when everything,
and I mean EVERYTHING, will be digitized for reproduction every
time anyone wants a copy.

Just as today there are 10 million eBooks out there that we can
copy in unlimited quantities [based on local copyrights], there
will be any number of physical object that can be "printed out"
on three-dimensional printers, replicators, etc.

Again, the media don't talk about it, but such things have been
around for decades now, and are now affordable desktop systems.

Also watch out for the "RepRap" project to build machines quite
literally capable building copies of themselves, with only some
very common materials that you can easily provide.,


eBooks were the very first example of "Unlimited Distribution,"
just as The Gutenberg Press was the first of "Mass Production."

Unlimited Distribution means "anyone can have as many copies as
they want to have."


The first title from Project Gutenberg was about 5 kilobytes.

Those 5 terabytes mentioned above will hold a BILLION COPIES!

Certainly "unlimited" enough for the likes of me.


Just carrying the average U.S. public library books with you,
all the time, and you OWN YOUR OWN LIBRARY.

I haven't even delved into how much more can be done with the
eBooks than with the paper books.

My father, a Shakespeare professor, gave this example:

Suppose you wanted to do a research paper on Shakespeare on a
topic ofweddings, marriage, etc.

Just THINK how long it would take you with paper books to get
the first list together of every time The Bard mentioned:

etc, etc., etc.

The fact is that it would be just about impossible to do, and
that would be just the starting point.

Today you could create such a list in minutes if not seconds,
if you were good enough at writing the instructions.

The time is coming, perhaps already here, when you can search
millions of books in the same manner, looking up concepts not
words, with the various new search engine technologies.

The possibilities are truly just about endless.

The doors are just opening.

As witnessed by the fact the questions needed to be asked via
such an erudite forum as this one.

        Date: Tue, 24 Mar 2009 10:58:56 +1300
        From: Siobhan King <>
        Subject: RE: [Humanist]  22.643 looking back & finding a difference
        In-Reply-To: <>

Jim  - yes, I needn't have been quite so facetious. I'm glad this has stimulated some lively debate despite that. 

Willard - thank you. I'm going to be boring and agree with you. I think the impact of the speed with which things disappear online potentially has a great impact on historical practice. As digital documents deteriorate and disappear at a faster rate, preservation becomes more urgent and presses upon us the need to evaluate history today. 

Historians used to spend much time in libraries and archives evaluating monographs and primary documents and coming to conclusions about events years after they happened. There seems a growing awareness now among historians that the place to look for primary documents is on the internet and that these objects must be preserved them in to retain substantiating documentation for one's historical arguments. 

Cohen and Rosenzweig's handbook for historians (Digital History: A guide to gathering preserving and presenting the past on the web) is indicative of this awareness and I can now see historians moving into a new role where they become their own electronic archivists. The speed of things has the affect of changing roles for historians and other humanists.  I see historians of the future needing a new suite of technical skills, not only the ability to evaluate electronic documents but also the ability to find, capture and preserve them. 

Having said that, practice is one thing. What theories will underpin these activities? 

Siobhan King

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Humanist Discussion Group
Sent: Monday, 23 March 2009 11:31 p.m.

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 643.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to:

        Date: Mon, 23 Mar 2009 10:21:24 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist]  22.641 looking back

Let me respond to James Rovira's restated question with an assertion I
hope someone challenges. He asks,

> The last major revolution in "text" technology, the shift from
> manuscript to print culture, has been well documented to have
> contributed to significant social and phenomenological changes, such
> as the spread of literacy, increased production of printed texts
> (presses in 1800 could print 250 sheets an hour; presses in 1848 could
> print 12,0000 sheets an hour, and often needed to), the
> democratization of learning, etc.
> In these terms, I see the internet as an extension or continuation of
> the changes begun by the advent of print technology, but not nearly as
> substantially different -socially and phenomenologically from the user
> end- as the change from manuscript to print culture.  Can anyone
> coherently describe social and phenomenological changes in the user
> experience of internet texts analogous to changes from print to
>  manuscript culture?

One real difference from the world of printed books that I have witnessed in
the last 30 years has to do with the simple matter of finding secondary
literature in the course of investigating a topic. In the late 1970s through
the mid 1980s I researched and wrote a dissertation which involved mostly,
but not exclusively, the fields of Milton studies, biblical studies and
classics -- or, in terms of locations in the library I worked in, chiefly
but not exclusively PR (13th floor), PA (12th floor) and BS (9th floor), my
study carrel being on the 13th. I also regularly made the circuit of other
campus libraries at Toronto, the most distant being 15 minutes' walk away,
and including the Engineering library. (Milton was a polymath who did not
confine himself to any one of our disciplines, so following in his footsteps
took a bit of mind- and leg-stretching work.) I had a system of accumulating
references to books in other libraries in order to minimize the amount of
walking between libraries, an important consideration given the climate, but
I essentially treated Robarts as a random-access repository and so was going
up and down stairs with considerable frequency every day, nearly, over the 8
years of the PhD. (Those were the days!) When I finished my dissertation, I
had, alas, a non-academic job, but fortunately for me still in Robarts
Library, where I continued my work furtively but constantly for another 12
years until I landed a proper academic job.

In other words, I have had intimate physical experience of intensively and
extensively interdisciplinary work for many years under the old dispensation.

That's the background against which I consider the impact (yes, the right
metaphor) of JSTOR et sim. -- the world that allows me to construct what
seems a profound difference from my physically peripatetic past. I now
observe myself at work, gathering materials or references to them almost
exclusively online, directly or indirectly. I see what happens when I go to
JSTOR and look across all the journals in the online collections for hits to
queries, sometimes unconstrained, sometimes not. I note where topics
surface, in what disciplinary areas where I would never thought to have
looked. I become a sometimes frantic manager of wildly forking paths,
sometimes just a bemused observer. It's true that I was in some respects in
the same position with Milton back in the 1980s, inclined to wander, though
paying then more dearly in the currency of my own time than I could possibly
afford to do now. But the difference is that now I discover where to look by
where those paths fork to rather than decide a priori where in which
libraries I will go.

Now because time is limited the net result is that I tend to go wide rather
than deep. My implicit commitment, then, is not to a truth obtained on some
deep level of a subject but to one that is fragmented and refracted across
the surfaces of many disciplines in the humanities and sciences.

Recently in a course on research methods the students told me that they
begin their research papers by going to JSTOR first. I imagine that they do
not go as widely and wildly as I do, but they deliberately put themselves
in situations in which there are no physical impediments to encounter
across disciplines. This seems a very different situation from the one I was
in all those years ago.



Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London,;
Editor, Humanist,;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews,

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