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kottke.org posts about WWW

The web was invented in France, not Switzerland

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2012

David Galbraith updated his post on where the web was invented (which includes an interview with Tim Berners-Lee) to include the juicy tidbit that the building in which TBL invented the web is in France, not Switzerland.

I’ll bet if you asked every French politician where the web was invented not a single one would know this. The Franco-Swiss border runs through the CERN campus and building 31 is literally just a few feet into France. However, there is no explicit border within CERN and the main entrance is in Switzerland, so the situation of which country it was invented in is actually quite a tricky one. The current commemorative plaque, which is outside a row of offices where people other than Tim Berners-Lee worked on the web, is in Switzerland. To add to the confusion, in case Tim thought of the web at home, his home was in France but he temporarily moved to rented accommodation in Switzerland, just around the time the web was developed. So although, strictly speaking, France is the birthplace of the web it would be fair to say that it happened in building 31 at CERN but not in any particular country! How delightfully appropriate for an invention which breaks down physical borders.

Screenshots of the early World Wide Web

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2011

Inspired in part by my post on the original Twitter homepage, Serge Keller collected a bunch of screenshots of early web sites, including the very first web page, an early Microsoft design, and the White House’s initial site. Some sites haven’t changed all that much…Amazon and Craigslist in particular have retained much of the design DNA over the years.

Web packets in flight

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2010

Here’s what the communication between a web browser and YouTube looks like when the browser requests a video, slowed down 12X so you can actually see what happens.

The web’s symbiotic link to Brett Favre’s career

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2010

Wired published a story on the web today called The Web Is Dead. The most appropriate response to such a claim is something close to Tim Carmody’s series of tweets demonstrating the parallels between the growth of the web and Brett Favre’s professional football career. The web isn’t dead yet, says Carmody, because Brett Favre hasn’t retired. It’s our culture’s most significant symbiotic relationship since E.T. and Gertie’s flower.

The web became publicly available on August 6, 1991. Brett Favre was a rookie in the Falcons’ camp, having signed a contract July 19.

1993 saw the introduction of Mosaic’s graphical browser, Favre’s first full year as a starter, and the Packers’ first playoffs since 1982.

In 1995, Favre wins the MVP, the Packers get to the NFC Championships, and Windows 95 brings the internet & graphic interface to the masses.

Brett Favre’s first Super Bowl win coincided precisely (almost to the day) of Steve Jobs’s return to Apple.

And so on. Carmody’s bottom line:

What this means: like Favre, the open web has been with us for a long time, in good times & bad. Never count it out. Never believe the hype.

Even concussed, full of painkillers, with a dead dad and a wiped-out house, I’ll let that 20-year-old vet lead me down the field. Anytime.

Come on, web, just one more year! HTML5’ll make you feel young again!

Gurus, ninjas, and experts

posted by Aaron Cohen   Aug 03, 2010

whatthefuckismysocialmediastrategy.com is certainly a veritable and powerful social media strategy generator for any business. If you need a social media strategy, you should start here before interviewing folks. You know, to make yourself conversant in the lingo. That said:

Yo, whatthefuckismysocialmediastrategy.com, I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish but howtousetwitterformarketingandpr.com had one of the best snarky social media single serving site takedowns of all time. One of the best snarky social media single serving site takedowns of all time!

The birthplace of the web found

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2010

David Galbraith tracked down the birthplace of the web and confirmed the location with Tim Berners-Lee.

The reason I’m interested in this is that recognizing the exact places involved in the birth of the web is a celebration of knowledge itself rather than belief, opinion or allegiance, both politically and spiritually neutral and something that everyone can potentially enjoy and feel a part of.

Secondly, many places of lesser importance are very carefully preserved. The place where the web was invented is arguably the most important place in 2 millennia of Swiss history and of global historical importance.

It took him a long time to find images he liked

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2009

Here’s a new wrinkle in the ongoing battle with people that inline other people’s images: I stole your images, put them back or I will call a lawyer.

Images On Your Site

Why is business so hard? (thx, jillian)

Update: That image is from 2005…here’s the rest of the story and a couple more images. (thx, andy)

The real-world architecture of the internet cloud

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2009

The internet cloud is actually “giant buildings full of computers and diesel generators”.

Yet as data centers increasingly become the nerve centers of business and society — even the storehouses of our fleeting cultural memory (that dancing cockatoo on YouTube!) — the demand for bigger and better ones increases: there is a growing need to produce the most computing power per square foot at the lowest possible cost in energy and resources. All of which is bringing a new level of attention, and challenges, to a once rather hidden phenomenon. Call it the architecture of search: the tens of thousands of square feet of machinery, humming away 24/7, 365 days a year — often built on, say, a former bean field — that lie behind your Internet queries.

Famous photos

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2009

A nice selection of “photos that changed the world”. Warning: some of them are NSFW and/or disturbing/upsetting. The first photo on the web was new to me.

Back in 1992, after their show at the CERN Hardronic Festival, my colleague Tim Berners-Lee asked me for a few scanned photos of “the CERN girls” to publish them on some sort of information system he had just invented, called the “World Wide Web”. I had only a vague idea of what that was, but I scanned some photos on my Mac and FTPed them to Tim’s now famous “info.cern.ch”. How was I to know that I was passing an historical milestone, as the one above was the first picture ever to be clicked on in a web browser!”

?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2009

!

Update: !!

In defense of Twitter

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2009

Living in a big city, you get to hear other people’s conversations all the time. These are private conversations meant for the benefit of the participants but it’s no big deal if they’re overheard on the subway. And you know what people talk about most of the time? In no particular order:

1. What they had or are going to have for breakfast/lunch/dinner.
2. Last night’s TV or sports.
3. How things are going at work.
4. The weather.
5. Personal gossip.
6. Celebrity gossip.

Of course you’d like to think that most of your daily conversation is weighty and witty but instead everyone chats about pedestrian nonsense with their pals. In fact, that ephemeral chit-chat is the stuff that holds human social groups together.

Ever since the web hit the mainstream sometime in the 90s, people have asked of each new conversational publishing technology — newsgroups, message boards, online journals, weblogs, social networking sites, and now Twitter — the same question: “but why would anyone want to hear about what some random person is eating for breakfast?” The answer applies equally well for both offline conversation and online “social media”: almost no one…except for their family and friends.

So when you run across a Twitter message like “we had chicken sandwitches & pepsi for breakfast” from someone who has around 30 followers, what’s really so odd about it? It’s just someone telling a few friends on Twitter what she might normally tell them on the phone, via email, in person, or in a telegram. If you aren’t one of the 30 followers, you never see the message…and if you do, you’re like the guy standing next to a conversing couple on the subway platform.

P.S. And anyway, the whole breakfast question is a huge straw man periodically pushed across the tracks in front of speeding internet technology. There is much that happens on Twitter or on blogs or on Facebook that has nothing to do with small groups of people communicating about seemingly nothing. Can we just retire this stupid line of questioning once and for all?

(Would you like to post this link to Twitter?)

Update: From Twitter, two pithier reformulations of the above:

@phoutz: If Twitter is banal it is because you and I are banal (It’s called social norming)

@thepalephantom: The “no one cares what you’re doing” proclamation is a solipsists way of saying “i don’t care”

Update: Three related articles. How the Other Half Writes: In Defense of Twitter by Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG (thx, @secretsquirrel):

Again, I fail to see any clear distinction between someone’s boring Twitter feed - considered only semi-literate and very much bad — and someone else’s equally boring, paper-based diary — considered both pro-humanist and unquestionably good. Kafka would have had a Twitter feed! And so would have Hemingway, and so would have Virgil, and so would have Sappho. It’s a tool for writing. Heraclitus would have had a f***ing Twitter feed.

Twitter: Industries of Banality by Struan McRae Spencer of Vitamin Briefcase:

Living with friends and colleagues would be a cheap alternative to living alone. People generally don’t do it because it’s not a good thing for humans to do. We are genetically predisposed to need time in solitude occasionally. So instead of living with your friends and colleagues, try living with their disembodied thoughts floating around on your computer and popping up on your desktop every fifteen, thirty, sixty, (manual refresh), minutes. Fellowship exists to provide us with relief from solitude and our individual pursuits. Living in a state of constant fellowship with hundreds, if not thousands of people who have known you (or not) across various stages of your life becomes an insurmountable problem the longer you try to do it.

To Tweet or Not To Tweet by Maureen Dowd of the NY Times, the essay that finally set me off in the first place:

Do you ever think “I don’t care that my friend is having a hamburger?”

Extreme borrowing in the blogosphere

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2009

In the past week, both Joshua Schachter and Matt Haughey published articles that were excerpted in the Voices section of All Things Digital, a web site owned by Dow Jones and run by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg of the WSJ. Each excerpt was accompanied by a link to the original articles. Schachter and Haughey both reacted negatively to All Things Digital’s posting of their work. Andy Baio has collected responses from Schachter, Haughey, All Things Digital’s Kara Swisher, other writers whose stuff has been excerpted in the Voices section, and a couple other long-time online writers. Merlin Mann’s comment on Twitter sums up what the independent writers seem to be irritated with:

Republishing online work without consent and wrapping it in ads is often called “feed scraping.” At AllThingsD, it’s called “a compliment.”

It does suck that ATD’s linking technique makes it appear as though Schachter and Haughey are in the employ of Dow Jones and that DJ has the copyright on what they wrote. ATD should make the lack of affiliation more clear. Other than that, is the ATD post really that bad? In many ways, All Things Digital’s linking technique is more respectful of the author of the original piece than that of a typical contemporary blog. For comparison purposes, here are screenshots of Schachter’s original article as linked to from a typical blog (in this case, Boing Boing) and by All Things Digital.

Attribution on Boing Boing vs All Things Digital

Go read both posts (ATD, BB) and then come back. With its short excerpt and explicit authorship (i.e. there’s no doubt that Joshua Schachter wrote those words), the ATD post is clearly just an enticement for the reader to go read the original post. On the other hand, BB’s post summarizes most of Schachter’s argument and includes an extensive excerpt of the juiciest part of the original piece. The post is clearly marked as being “posted by Cory Doctorow” so a less-than-careful reader might assume that those are Doctorow’s thoughts about URL shorteners.

[Metaphorically speaking, the ATD post is like showing the first 3 minutes of a movie and then prodding the viewer to go see the rest of it in a theater while BB’s post is like the movie trailer that gives so much of the story away (including the ending) that you don’t really need to watch the actual movie.]

What ends up happening is that blogs like Boing Boing — and I’m very much not picking on BB here…this is a very common and accepted practice in the blogosphere — provide so much of the gist and actual text of the thing they’re pointing to that readers often don’t end up clicking through to the original. To make matters worse, some readers will pass along BB’s post instead of Schachter’s post…it becomes, “hey, did you see what Boing Boing said about URL shortening services?” And occassionally (but more often than you might think) someone will write a post about something interesting, it’ll get linked by a big blog that summarizes and excerpts extensively, and then the big blog’s post will appear on the front page of Digg and generally get linked around a lot while the original post and its author get screwed.

So I guess my question is: why is All Things Digital getting put through the wringer receiving scrutiny here for something that seems a lot more innocuous than what thousands of blogs are doing every day? Shouldn’t we be just as or more critical of sites like Huffington Post, Gawker, Apartment Therapy, Engadget, Boing Boing, Buzzfeed, Lifehacker, etc. etc. etc. that extensively excerpt and summarize?

Update: I’m pulling a couple of quotes up from the comments so that the opinions of the people involved aren’t misrepresented.

Joshua Schachter:

I really just objected to the byline on the ATD thing. It made it appear that there was a relationship when there wasn’t. If there is curation, the curator should be the one noted as making the choices.

Andy Baio:

All the complaints stem from the affiliation issue. Running ads and having comments on an excerpt are only an issue if it’s presented as original content, instead of curation. Put an editor’s name on there, remove the author photos, throw it in a blockquote, and all these complaints go away.

URL shorteners suck

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 03, 2009

After threatening as much for many months, Joshua Schachter has published a piece about how URL shorteners (TinyURL, bit.ly, is.gd, etc.) suck for everyone except the companies which build URL shorteners.

There are three other parties in the ecosystem of a link: the publisher (the site the link points to), the transit (places where that shortened link is used, such as Twitter or Typepad), and the clicker (the person who ultimately follows the shortened links). Each is harmed to some extent by URL shortening.

I agree with Schachter all around here. With respect to Twitter, I would like to see two things happen:

1) That they automatically unshorten all URLs except when the 140 character limit is necessary in SMS messages.

2) In cases where shortening is necessary, Twitter should automatically use a shortener of their own.

That way, users know what they’re getting and as long as Twitter is around, those links stay alive.

Tighter, simpler, more transparent

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 03, 2009

Cathy Curtis, a former staff writer for The LA Times, shares how the web made her a better writer.

Another impetus for scanning, I believe, is the web’s seemingly limitless content. It’s like being unable to enjoy yourself at a party because you might be having a better time at someone else’s house. Add the growing mania for speed (“This #%&* site is taking 20 seconds to load!”), and it’s clear that web writing has to pick up the pace.

(via subtraction)

Internet blowhards

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2009

Here’s a handy flowchart to figure out which new media blowhard you are. I am “Try Again”.

My God, it’s full of tabs

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2009

Rod McLaren tracked every browser tab he closed for more than a month. The total: 1725 tabs, an average of nearly 50 a day. I would be hesitant to undertake a similar tabulation for fear of learning the answer.

Old school web design

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2009

The Vintage Web blog consists of screenshots of sites whose current design appears to have not been updated since the 1990s.

Jimmy Fallon mines the web

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2009

Being that Jimmy Fallon is a big nerd and his show’s producer is Gavin Purcell (formerly of TechTV, G4, and Attack of the Show), I knew it was only a matter of time before The Late Show started featuring more online stuff than its predecessor. But I didn’t know it would happen so soon. So far Jimmy has welcomed Kevin Rose & Alex Albrecht (of Diggnation) and Josh Topolsky (of Engadget). On last night’s show, they turned a Twitter user with 7 followers into an instant Twitter celeb. The show’s web site is mainly a blog staffed by full-time editors.

New MoMA site

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2009

New MoMA web site is launching tomorrow…here’s the preview.

Was the internet boring in 1996?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2009

Farhad Manjoo on the unrecognizable Internet of 1996.

I started thinking about the Web of yesteryear after I got an e-mail from an idly curious Slate colleague: What did people do online back when Slate launched, he wondered? After plunging into the Internet Archive and talking to several people who were watching the Web closely back then, I’ve got an answer: not very much.

David Wertheimer calls bullshit and retorts:

The World Wide Web was an invigorating, compelling and, frankly, amazing place in 1996. Innovations were fast, furious and quickly adopted. Clever people did clever things and pretty much everyone noticed, because “everyone” was a rather small and curious community. […] The Internet of 1996 was certainly nothing like today’s experience. But to suggest there wasn’t much to do is to ignore everything that was being done.

I’m obviously with Team David on this one.

Art history online

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2009

smarthistory is a fantastic substitute for that art history class you never took in college.

smARThistory.org is a free multi-media web-book designed as a dynamic enhancement (or even substitute) for the traditional and static art history textbook.

This looks like a great resource.

Quick design tweaks

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2009

As promised, the redesign of this site started last week is still in motion. I’ve just made a bunch of small tweaks that should make the site more readable for some readers.

- Fonts. In response to a number of font issues (many reports of Whitney acting up, the larger type looking like absolute crap on Windows), I’ve changed how the stylesheets work. Sadly, that means no more lovely Whitney. :( Mac users will see Myriad Pro Regular backed up by Helvetica and Arial while PC users will see Arial (at a different font-size). In each case, the type is slightly smaller than it was previously. I’m frustrated that these changes need to be made…the state of typography on the web is still horrible.

- Blue zoom border. Oh, it’s staying, but it’ll work a bit differently. The blue sides will still appear on the screen at all times but the top and bottom bars will scroll with the content. I liked the omnipresent border, but the new scheme will fix the problems with hidden anchor links and hidden in-page search results and allow for more of the screen to be used for reading/scanning. It breaks on short pages (see: the 404 page) and still doesn’t work quite right on the iPhone, but those are problems for another day.

- Icons. Updated the favicon and the icon on the iPhone to match the new look/feel.

- Misc. Rounded off the corners on the red title box. Increased the space between the sidebar and the main content column.

Thanks to everyone who offered their suggestions and critiques of the new design, especially those who took the time to send in screenshots of the problems they were having. Feedback is always appreciated.

Old whitehouse.gov down the memory hole

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2009

Greg Allen raises a good point regarding the new White House web site: why did the old site get completely erased?

It seems problematic to me that the entire official web presence of the Bush administration, as tainted and manipulative or enraging as you may think it is, just gets wiped clean from the web like that. People need to remember, reference, discuss, and link to that publicly owned, previously published information; it shouldn’t be tossed to the curb like a dead plant or buried in the National Archive backup tape repository.

Perhaps there needs to be a simple directory structure put in place, something like:

whitehouse.gov/42
whitehouse.gov/43
whitehouse.gov/44

The files for each President’s site would live under the associated directory and would never need to be taken down to make room for new files. Of course, maintaining all that, and the different systems and platforms potentially used by each administration would be a total PITA.

Update: Here are the Clinton whitehouse.gov archive and the George W. Bush whitehouse.gov archive. Nice but they don’t address the broken links issue and snapshots don’t capture any dynamic functions (like search, for instance). Also, shouldn’t every page on the site function like a wiki so you can go back and see the history at any time? Quite a few people suggested using subdomains (e.g. 43.whitehouse.gov) instead of directories to keep everything straight; I concur. (thx, arnold & kate)

I just saw It’s a Wonderful LifeHacker

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2009

Web/movie mashups. My favorites:

Harry Potterybarn.com
Il Huffington Postino
Slumdog Millionaire Dollar Homepage
Behind Enemy Bloglines
Schindler’s Craigslist
Charlotte’s WebCrawler
Freecreditreport.com Willy

And while not strictly adhering to the form, I also chuckled at “Bone Thugs & eHarmony”. The best I could come up with for kottke.org is Girls Gone Wild: Kottke West, which is not so good.

Update: Duh, I totally forgot about Koyaaniskottke. Also: kottke.orgazmo, The Kottke Horror Picture Show, and Kottke Balboa. (thx, andy & charley)

The country’s new robots.txt file

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2009

Here’s a small and nerdy measure of the huge change in the executive branch of the US government today. Here’s the robots.txt file from whitehouse.gov yesterday:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /cgi-bin
Disallow: /search
Disallow: /query.html
Disallow: /omb/search
Disallow: /omb/query.html
Disallow: /expectmore/search
Disallow: /expectmore/query.html
Disallow: /results/search
Disallow: /results/query.html
Disallow: /earmarks/search
Disallow: /earmarks/query.html
Disallow: /help
Disallow: /360pics/text
Disallow: /911/911day/text
Disallow: /911/heroes/text

And it goes on like that for almost 2400 lines! Here’s the new Obamafied robots.txt file:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /includes/

That’s it! BTW, the robots.txt file tells search engines what to include and not include in their indexes. (thx, ian)

Update: Nearly four months later, the White House’s robots.txt file is still short…only four lines.

User-agent: *
Disallow: /includes/
Disallow: /search/
Disallow: /omb/search/

New White House site

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2009

Several readers have noted that The White House Site has already been refreshed to the now-familiar Obama look-and-feel. It’s even got a blog on the front page. Will there be a Twitter account? The Wikipedians have been busy too: Obama is listed as the current President on the President of the United States page.

Update: Oh, and all of the third-party content on the WH site is licensed under Creative Commons. Wow.

Update: Oh, there’s a Twitter account. Pair with THE_REAL_SHAQ for maximum fun! (thx, brian)

Update: This appears to be the official WH Twitter account, former updated by the Bush administration but now helmed by the Obama folks.

Regarding the new design

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2009

The design of kottke.org has been mostly the same since 2000…a garish yellow/green bar across the top and small black text on a white background everywhere else. (See the progression of designs since 1998.) People absolutely hated that color when I first introduced it1, but it stuck around — mostly out of laziness — and that pukey yellow became the most visible brand element of the site.

Two days ago, I refreshed the design of the site and, as you may have noticed, no more yellow/green. The other big changes are: bigger text set in a new font, a blue “zoom” border around the page, and the addition of titles to the short posts.

(A brief nuts and bolts interlude… For most of you, the site will look like this. If you’ve got Myriad Pro on your machine — it comes free with Acrobat Reader and Adobe CS — it’ll look like this…this is the “intended” look. And if you’re a fancypants designer with Whitney installed, you’ll get this rarified view, which I did mostly for me. On IE6, the site will be legible and usable but somewhat unstyled. If you’re not seeing something that looks like one of the above screenshots — if the text is in all caps, for instance — please drop me a line with a link to a screenshot and your browser information. Thanks!)

The blue “zoom” border is the biggest visual change, and it’s an homage to what is still my favorite kottke.org design, the yellow zoom from 1999. I like that kottke.org is one of the few weblogs out there that can reach back almost ten years for a past design element; the site has history. In a way, that border is saying “kottke.org has been around for ten years and it’s gonna be around for twenty more”. At least that’s how I think about it.

I’ve already gotten lots of feedback from readers, mostly via Twitter and email. There were a few technical issues that I’ve hopefully ironed out — e.g. it should work better on the iPhone now — and a couple which might take a bit longer, like the border messing with the page-at-a-time scrolling method. Some people like the changes, but mostly people don’t like the new design, really dislike the blue, and generally want the old site back. This is exactly the reaction I expected, and it’s heartening to learn that the old design struck such a chord with people. All I’m asking is that you give it a little time.

My suspicion is that as you get used to it, the new text size won’t seem so weird and that blue border will likely disappear into the background of your attention, just as that hideous yellow/green did. A month from now, your conscious mind won’t even see the blue — chalk it up to something akin to banner blindness…brand blindness maybe? — but your subconscious will register it and you’ll just know where you are, safe and sound right here at good ol’ kottke.org. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll tweak and move some things around. Design is a process, not a result, and we’ll get it to a good place eventually, even if it takes twenty years.

[1] I wish I had access to my email from back then…everyone hated it and wanted the old design back. Before landing on the yellow/green color, I tried the golden yellow from the previous design, a blue very much like the blue in the current border, and then red. I think each color was live on the site for a few days and my intention was to just keep switching it around. But then I got bored and just left the yellow/green. Gold star to anyone who remembers that short phase of the site.

Is This Your Paper On Single Serving Sites?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2008

Is This Your Paper On Single Serving Sites? is a single serving site that houses a paper on single serving sites written by Ryan Greenberg.

Visually, sites’ presentation is often as sparse as the domain names are long. Many display only a few words. Although some sites use Flash to play an audio or video clip, very few offer the rich interactivity associated with Flash deployment in other contexts. Some sites incorporate design tropes from past online eras: gaudy 3D headlines, jarring repeated background images, looping audio clips, and centered text.

My embarrassing web past

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2008

Late last week Jason Santa Maria posted the first web site that he’d ever made and asked others to do the same. The earliest web page of mine still online is a parody of Suck that I did in March 1996 called Suck for Dummies. (It’s now called Suck for Dimwits because I received a C&D from the X for Dummies people threatening to sue.) In June of 96, I made this over-the-top home page, Jason’s Awesome WWW Home Page. (Warning, <blink> tag usage!! Sign my guestbook! Top 5% of All Web Sites!!) I posted a bunch of old kottke.org designs back in March but missed that the first few months of posts are still live in their original design.

My earlier sites are lost, I think. (I have a few Zip and Jaz disks that might have some older stuff on them but I don’t have the capability to read them anymore.) Before 0sil8, there were three or four efforts that I must have deleted from my hard drive at some point, including some embarrassing efforts involving fractals. The very first thing I did in HTML was a personal home page around Nov/Dec 1994 that lived on a 3.5” floppy. I coded it on the computer in my dorm room (using an early version of HTML Assistant and Aldus PhotoStyler) and then put it on a floppy to use on the computer in the physics lab, the only computer I had access to on campus that had internet access. The page was little more than a gussied up list of links that I liked to visit online, but I loved building, rebuilding, and redesigning it over and over, even though I was the only one who ever saw it. The handcrafted/DIY nature of building that page hooked me on web design. I would give almost anything to see that little page again.

A short digital ramble

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2008

I read Cynical-C everyday; the other day I ran across this post about the Dancing Plague of 1518.

The Dancing Plague (or Dancing Epidemic) of 1518 was a case of dancing mania that occurred in Strasbourg, Alsace, France (then part of the Holy Roman Empire) in July 1518. Numerous people took to dancing for days without rest, and over the period of about one month, most of the people died from heart attack, stroke, or exhaustion.

Wikipedia is great but I like to dig back into the “primary” sources. A Discovery News article tells of a book called A Time to Dance, a Time to Die whose author says that the dancing was a result of mass hysteria caused by high levels of psychological distress in the community. That article also mentions the Tanganyika laughter epidemic:

The epidemic seems to have started within a small group of students in a boarding school, possibly triggered by a joke. Laughter, as is commonly known, is in some sense contagious, and for whatever reason in this case the laughter perpetuated itself, far transcending its original cause. Since it is physiologically impossible to laugh for much more than a few minutes at a time, the laughter must have made itself known sporadically, though reportedly it was incapacitating when it struck. The school from which the epidemic sprang was shut down; the children and parents transmitted it to the surrounding area. Other schools, Kashasha itself, and another village, comprising thousands of people, were all affected to some degree. Six to eighteen months after it started, the phenomenon died off.

That epidemic was covered at length in Radio Lab’s Laughter episode from earlier in the year.

But back to the Dancing Plague. That article links to a page on another form of mass hysteria, penis panic.

Genital retraction syndrome (GRS), generally considered a culture-specific syndrome, is a condition in which an individual is overcome with the belief that his/her external genitals — or also, in females, breasts — are retracting into the body, shrinking, or in some male cases, may be imminently removed or disappear. A penis panic is a mass hysteria event or panic in which males in a population suddenly believe they are suffering from genital retraction syndrome.

Which in turn guides us to a 2008 article in Harper’s, A mind dismembered: In search of the magical penis thieves. George Costanza had a personal case of penis panic in the Seinfeld episode entitled The Hamptons.

George is seen naked by Jerry’s girlfriend Rachel, to whom he tries vainly to explain that, having just gotten out of the cold water, he is a victim of penile “shrinkage.”

Penis panic put me in mind of a similar phenomenon and after a couple of failed searches — “afraid to pee”, “pee in public” — I finally found it: paruresis, aka “pee shyness, shy kidney, bashful bladder, stage fright, urophobia or shy bladder syndrome”.

Paruresis […] is a type of phobia in which the sufferer is unable to urinate in the (real or imaginary) presence of others, such as in a public restroom. It can affect both males and females. The analogous condition that affects bowel movement is called parcopresis.

Paruresis has been referenced in several movies, TV shows, books, and other media.

Stage fright always puts me in mind of this New Yorker article by John Lahr about the phenomenon (subscribers-only version). From there, it’s relaxed concentration all the way down, a topic on which I could digitally ramble all day, so let’s stop there.

(I took the title of this post from the online excursions that Rosecrans Baldwin conducts for the NY Times’ The Moment. Apologies and thanks.)