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September 21, 2012

Science

Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archive.

Brewster Kahle was a 19-year-old computer science student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when a friend posed a simple, yet life-changing question: “What can you do with your life that is worthwhile?”

Kahle came up with two answers. The first, developing a microchip to ensure the privacy of telephone conversations, didn’t pan out. But 32 years later, Kahle is still happily pursuing his second big idea – to create the digital-age version of the Great Library of Alexandria.

His Internet Archive – fittingly based in an old Richmond District church that architecturally harks back to the ancient Egyptian library – is building a rich repository of modern digital culture. It’s best known for the online Wayback Machine, which provides a searchable online museum of the Internet, archiving more than 150 billion Web pages that have appeared since 1996. The nonprofit archive stretches beyond the Internet. It has recorded 350,000 television news broadcasts, including reports from around the world during the week of the 2001 terrorist attacks, and stores 200,000 digitized books.

The nearly 10 petabytes – equivalent to about 10 billion books – of material in the archive also has 900,000 audio files, including 9,000 fan-made recordings of Grateful Dead concerts. Volunteers are even converting old home movies and stock footage of post-World War II San Francisco into digital form.

It’s a mind-boggling, and constantly growing, amount of digital data, and it’s all available for free, as the site’s welcome says, to “researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public.” With 50 times as much data expected to be produced over the next decade, it will be an ever-increasing challenge to capture, catalog and store it.

But at a time when what’s brand new can almost instantly become passe, Kahle believes it’s more important than ever to remember our yesterdays.

“Let’s not throw out the old, even though we’re going headlong into trying to invent some new future,” he said. “And, in fact, the older things inform what we do.”

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September 20, 2012

Optimist and utopian

‘Optimist and utopian’.

The archive’s mission of creating “universal access to all knowledge” would appear to be a Sisyphean task at best, as well as a venture that’s not going to bring the 51-year-old entrepreneur and Internet pioneer the kind of money that would make a Mark Zuckerberg envious.

But Kahle isn’t motivated by the pursuit of money – he says he already has “plenty of that” from previous ventures, including Alexa Internet, a Web information company that Amazon.com bought for a reported $250 million in 1999.

He’s also earned plenty of accolades – in April, he was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame, an online-only hall established by the Internet Society of Reston, Va. He was part of an inaugural class that included tech luminaries Vint Cerf, Robert Kahn and Charles Herzfeld.

His real reward, he says, is creating a place for researchers – and anyone else with a curious mind and a thirst for knowledge – to have unfet-tered access to the fleeting cultural artifacts of the Internet age. The “optimist and utopian” in him believes his “Library of Alexandria, Version 2″ ultimately will make the world a better place.

“It’s really meant to be a resource where you can come up with your own ideas,” he said. “We want people to think deeper and then create new things that are worthy of putting in the library.”
Computerized church

Kahle, a tall, balding, slightly rumpled-looking fellow, has been married for 20 years. His wife, Mary Austin, is co-founder of the San Francisco Center for the Book, a strictly analog venture that teaches classic bookbinding and letterpress techniques. They live near the archive in the Presidio and have two sons, Caslon, 18, (named for the Caslon typeface) and Logan, 15.

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September 4, 2012

Internet scams

Look for PUIM to avoid internet scams.

Consumers wishing to shop online are advised to make purchases via websites that carry the logo of Internet Entrepreneurs Association of Malaysia (PUIM) to avoid scams or losses.
PUIM president Mohd Azrul Mohd Nor said the serial number and PUIM logo are proof that the internet entrepreneurs are recognised by the association where consumer rights are protected.
“Currently, 130 companies or businesses that conduct sale online have the PUIM logo. Customers faced with scams or service problems can contact PUIM so that we can contact the entrepreneurs,” he told reporters after a meeting with internet entrepreneurs here today.
Azrul said successful social sites like Facebook created many new businesses and entrepreneurs, as well as help bring their businesses to another level.
“Marketing via Facebook can be adapted to the needs of traders, regardless whether it is full-time or part-time business. Some started small but have grown big that they can afford their own shops,” he added.
Most of the small businesses via the internet target female customers by selling beauty products and cosmetic accessories, scarves and clothing.

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August 28, 2012

Evolution

Internet another tool/weapon in evolution.
In the opening scenes of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a band of ape-like creatures some 4 million years ago discovers a monolith. I’ll get to that later, but for the sake of brevity, the creature, who had been a vegetarian, finds a bone, uses the bone to hunt meat and eventually uses the same bone to kill a rival.
I don’t want this column to become as confusing as the movie, but there is an interesting correlation between the movie and the Internet.

Throughout the evolution of humankind, the tool-to-weapon link has been made. From that bone to gunpowder to flying machines to computers. What began as a tool soon serves a dual purpose, as tool and weapon.
The monolith in the movie was supposedly planted there – as well as one on the moon – by space travelers. The monolith was meant to help in the evolution of humankind, hence the idea for the bone for a tool and eventual weapon.
Now this is my understanding and interpretation of the 1968 movie and there are many others. It took me a while to come to my conclusions. I didn’t get much out of it when I first saw it, but, hey, it was the ’60s.

The Internet is a great tool. Who doesn’t use Google almost every day? We communicate with distant relatives or even someone across the room, through email. We shop. We trace our roots. Revolutions are started and reported on the Internet. It was an enormously important breakthrough for civilization.
But, as with almost all tools, it has been used as a weapon. Anyone can post anything on the Internet. It can be used to wound or end the careers of politicians and movie stars. It can be used by hackers to penetrate the lives of average people and steal their life savings or their identities. It can be used to break into companies and do harm.

Of course, there are the sexual predators and child molesters who can use the Internet to find their next victims.
And, I believe, it could eventually mean the demise of face-to-face communication. Logged onto Facebook recently? Texting, by the way, is just as socially destructive. But someone likely once said that about the telephone.

Policing the Internet is challenging, especially in this country with its strong First Amendment right of freedom of speech. Unfortunately, not everyone took to heart the lessons of their childhood of being kind.
The attacks are made even easier through the anonymity of the Internet. In chat rooms and in comment sections, the harsher, even meaner, side of contributors comes out.

Not to sound self-serving, but the Internet has few, if any, restrictions. In the newspaper business, there are editors to filter out the chaff and ensure accuracy. The names and phone numbers and, yes, email addresses of writers are, at least in the Tulsa World, published along with their stories and columns. Someone is held accountable.
The Internet, however, too often becomes a verbal gun to attack the innocent as well as the guilty, to incite, to inflict harm.

The movie, “2001” was a lesson in evolution. When the tool – the onboard computer Hal 9000 – became more human than machine, it viewed the human occupants of the spaceship as mere maintenance workers – apes – and found them dispensable. Hal was the brain and nervous center of the ship. When it felt threatened, it fought back, becoming the weapon. In the end, it was undone by a tool, a screwdriver, that was used as a weapon.
There’s more to the movie – the fourth dimension, the starchild – but I’ll stop there. It’s not the ’60s anymore, man.

I’m not predicting that the Internet will become as insidious as Hal 9000. I’m not suggesting that the Internet be “unplugged.” It is, simply, as in “2001” another step in the evolution of humankind, good or bad. And, like a gun or stick of dynamite, it should be handled with care.
The Internet is not the end of evolution. It is merely another marker along the road. There will be other tools and other weapons.
We could try to disconnect the Internet. But, as Hal might say, “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” And, as Hal believed then, he might or might not be doing us a favor.

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