Showing all posts tagged: history

Prolonged volcanic activity killed the dinosaurs not an asteroid

29 March 2024

Well, this is interesting. All these years I’ve thought the demise of the dinosaurs was occasioned by the impact of an asteroid that struck Earth sixty-six million years ago. That may be still the case, but some scientists believe relentless volcanic activity, spanning more than a million years before and after the strike, may have been the real culprit.

At first, the Deccan Traps, an enormous shield volcano located in what is present day India, began releasing small quantities of carbon dioxide and sulphur into Earth’s atmosphere. As time went on these emissions increased, until, about three hundred thousand years before the asteroid strike, furious volcanic eruptions commenced. After several hundred thousand years of the atmosphere being filled with toxic gases, Earth must have been all but uninhabitable anyway.

In short, the asteroid is blamed for the mass extinctions that marked the end of the Cretaceous era, simply because it arrived at the time it did. All of this is the subject matter of the latest Kurzgesagt video, and even if that’s not happened, there’s much to marvel over. One being the reign of the dinosaurs lasted one hundred and fifty million years.

Humanity, or at least Homo sapiens, have been present, perhaps a mere three hundred thousand years so far. And then there’s Earth itself. Towards the end of the Cretaceous era, the planet was far warmer, and humid, than presently. Forests flourished in polar regions, and despite the long polar nights, life went on in what have seemed like a short sleeve like environment. Fascinating.


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Incredible Doom, life as a teenage proto-blogger in 1999

28 September 2023

Incredible Doom by Matthew Bogart and Jesse Holden, book cover

Book cover of Incredible Doom Vol 1, created by Matthew Bogart and Jesse Holden.

Incredible Doom is a serialised comic strip about two American teenage proto-bloggers, Dougie and Anna, in 1999, by Matthew Bogart and Jesse Holden. If you were on the web in 1999, as I was, this could be awesome.

And while I don’t know about crowdsourcing blog ideas at a drive through, Dougie and Anna could’ve made worse choices. Maybe if I write a novel about my early days online, I’ll tell the story. Otherwise Incredible Doom strikes me as being a gritty depiction of blogging in the late nineteen-nineties.

The book cover above, for Incredible Doom Vol. 1, by the way, is not directly related to the comic strip/graphic novel. This is a different story, featuring other characters. But it still sounds intriguing:

Allison is drowning under the weight of her manipulative stage magician father. When he brings home the family’s first computer, she escapes into a thrilling new world where she meetings Samir, a like-minded new online friend who has just agreed to run away from home with her.

After moving to a new town and leaving all of his friends behind, Richard receives a mysterious note in his locker with instructions on how to connect to “Evol BBS,” a dial-in bulletin board system, and meets a fierce punk named Tina who comes into his life and shakes his entire worldview loose.

A dial-in bulletin board system called Evol BBS? You can’t get any better than that.


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Should political leaders be elected to office by sortation?

26 September 2023

Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, writing for The New York Times, suggests sortation, a method of selecting public office holders in Ancient Greece, be given consideration:

People expect leaders chosen at random to be less effective than those picked systematically. But in multiple experiments led by the psychologist Alexander Haslam, the opposite held true. Groups actually made smarter decisions when leaders were chosen at random than when they were elected by a group or chosen based on leadership skill.

Sortition is election by lottery, as Encyclopaedia Britannica explains. While some people “elected” to office may be lacking in a certain degree of experience, they are said to feel a strong sense of responsibility, and take a diligent approach their duties.

Sortition, election by lot, a method of choosing public officials in some ancient Greek city-states. It was used especially in the Athenian democracy, from which most information about the practice is derived. With few exceptions, all magistrates were chosen by lot, beginning with the archons in 487–486 BC; likewise the Boule (council) of 500 and the juries of the law courts were chosen by lot. The practice of sortition obviated electoral races and provided for the regular turnover of officeholders.



Personal websites keep the internet fun and real

20 September 2023

The internet felt like an unexplored new frontier when I launched the first iteration of disassociated in 1997. New frontier may seem ornate, trite even, but it was an apt description.

We were feeling our way in the dark, and I’d say most of us were clueless as to what the internet could one day become (although without doubt some people had one or two ideas).

Certainly though today’s internet is worlds removed from that of twenty-five years ago, and being online sometimes feels more like a case of running to stand still.

But it’s not all bad, and at least we still have our personal websites. New York City based creative professional Rachel J. Kwon has put together a collection of blog posts and articles written by publishers of personal websites, who expound the positives of their web presences.

Long may personal websites be with us.


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Does the backwards compatibility of your website extend decades?

19 September 2023

I hate to think exactly how backwards compatible disassociated is. In the past I strived to work with web standards which ensured some uniformity of visual display, regardless of the web browser, or operating platform, being used to view the website. For the most part, but not quite always, disassociated generally worked as intended.

But in my cross-browser testing I really only used a small selection of better known, and recent release, browsers. I always hoped readers were mostly using these, while also keeping them reasonably up to date. As such, I’ve never given any thought as to how disassociated might present in legacy browsers. When I say lagacy, I’m talking apps that were available close to thirty years ago.

Netscape. Internet Explorer 1. Or Lynx, a browser that rendered websites as text only. While it turns out some of these ancient browsers are still available for download, I doubt few people would use them for regular web browsing. And that’s what my limited cross-browser testing regime is based on.

However, in a fascinating experiment, Anthony, a Sydney based software engineer, recently decided to see how far back in time he could take his website, using some of these legacy browsers:

Between pruning container divs and removing collapsed margins the thought occurred to me that my site —with its spartan design and low-tech philosophy— could have remained pretty much identical since the internet’s early days. This raised an interesting question: Exactly how far back in time could my site’s design have remained the same? How far in the past could this site’s current design have originated? 5 years? 10 years? more?

This all sounds like going down a veritable rabbit hole to me. If I saw a display problem with disassociated, on a browser virtually no one was using, I’d probably be tempted to fix the issue, knowing it might take hours to effect. Therefore I’d probably not attempt the exercise in the first place. And even though Anthony ran into a few rendering issues, some of which he found fixes for, overall his website held up well.


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All day I dream about the Roman Empire, like many others

18 September 2023

All roads, even Roman roads, lead to TikTok. Take any topic, no matter how obscure, how antiquated, and the subject will, it seems, surface, eventually, on the FYP tab of the ubiquitous video sharing app.

Last week it was the turn of the Roman Empire to trend. The Roman Empire. Antiquated: for sure. Obscure: certainly not. But the talk of TikTok it was. This after women were prompted to ask the men they knew how often they thought about the Roman Empire.

Some of the responses indicated this happened often. Several times a day, in some cases, apparently. Not bad for an institution that hasn’t existed in any real form for centuries. I myself still think about the old empire from time to time. I spent time in Europe once, and often encountered its remnants, even though I did not (somehow) visit Italy.

As a boy I was fascinated, obsessed more likely, by Rome. History teachers at school taught us about the Empire’s contribution to the world we lived in today, a contribution that was quite significant. In a sense we live, to a degree, in a scion of Rome. Of course we therefore think about Rome often: it’s very much a part of the fabric of our lives, a point Tyler Cowan underlines at Marginal Revolution:

I travel in the former Roman empire fairly often, usually at least once a year. I see pseudo-Roman architecture almost every time I go to Washington, D.C., which is maybe once every two weeks. There is a copy of the new Ovid translation sitting in the kitchen, and it has been there for a few months because I do not currently have time to read it. I see periodic Twitter updates about a Nat Friedman-Daniel Gross AI project to read ancient Roman scrolls. Christian references to ancient Rome cross my path all the time. Does it count to see Roman numerals? To write the words “per se”? To notice it is the month of August?

But I was thinking about the old Empire just the other week. In particular, the story of a short story, titled Rome, Sweet Rome, written by American writer James Erwin. In 2011, Erwin briefly serialised a story about a unit of some two thousand United States Marines who find themselves transported two thousand years back in time.

The Marines turn up in Italy with all of their munitions and equipment. Rome, Sweet Rome speculates on the outcome of a battle between the Marines, and the legions of the Roman Empire. The result seems like a foregone conclusion until it is realised the Marines have no way of replenishing their arms. Once they fire their last bullet, they’re fighting the Romans with swords and spears.

It’s no surprise — given how much Rome is still on our minds — that Rome, Sweet Rome garnered quite a bit of attention. At one point Rome, Sweet Rome was even optioned for film, with US production company Warner Bros acquiring the movie rights. Unfortunately for fans of the story, there has been little progress with a screen adaptation, following a re-write of the screenplay in 2013.

But who knows. Perhaps TikTok’s current interest in the Roman Empire might get the ball rolling again. TikTok has a certain power to open doors, if it can excite the interest of enough people.


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Everything I know about floppy disks, by Jonathan Pallant

18 September 2023

Everything you wanted or needed to know about floppy discs. An awesome computer science history resource put together by British IT consultant Jonathan Pallant.

Floppy disk drives are curious things. We know them as the slots that ingest those small almost-square plastic “floppy disks” and we only really see them now in Computer Museums. But there’s a lot going on in that humble square of plastic and I wanted to write down what I’ve learned so far.



The 100 year WordPress plan preserves your website for posterity

28 August 2023

WordPress, creator of the CMS I publish disassociated with, has unveiled a one hundred yearlong website hosting and domain name registration package. If you have a lazy US$38,000, then there’s nothing stopping you from signing up. But I like the idea. It makes sense. When I first began designing websites in 1997, there was a consensus that the web, websites, and even email, was a fad. A craze. Something that would come and go. As did pet rocks and CDs.

It took only a few short years — or was that months? — before we realised though we were going to live on the internet. Forever. No, we weren’t going to crank up the modem and login via dial up, a couple of times a day, rather our computers would be plugged into the grid every last waking minute. And who could have foreseen — back in the 1990’s — that we would one day carry devices in our pockets allowing us to remain online constantly?

Now that I think about it, I cannot remotely conceive of a notion that the web, and all of its interconnected peripherals, were a mere passing phase. disassociated has been online (in one form or another) for twenty-five years, and I occasionally find myself wondering about its long term future. Like what happens when I’m longer here? The thought of making provision in my will, to keep this website registered and online, has crossed my mind once or twice.

I can’t imagine I’m the only one. To some people, their website is an integral part of their identity. I’m talking particularly about those who document every aspect of their lives on a website or blog. It would be a shame, a loss even, if upon the death of the publisher, these resources simply vanished because no one was paying the domain registration and hosting bills. These are matters I doubt few people even remotely considered twenty-five years ago.

The WordPress one hundred year package is therefore compelling, even though I can see people baulking at the $38,000 price tag. I quickly ran the numbers, and based on current domain and hosting costs, could keep disassociated afloat for a century for maybe half that cost. But I’d need someone, a dependable descendent, I could rely on to carry out the necessary administrative tasks of keeping my website online when I’m gone.

On that basis, the cost, although steep, begins to look a little more palatable. Everything is taken care of, without the need to burden someone else. But the WordPress proposal poses intriguing questions. Do you believe preserving your website is essential to preserving your memory? People are already giving thought to what happens to their digital assets, things like email accounts and social media pages, on their deaths, but what about personal websites and blogs?


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A history of the Beastie Boys as hip hop turns 50 this year

10 August 2023

One for fans of erstwhile New York City hip hop act, the Beastie Boys, a write up from 2015 by Don Condon, music editor at Double J.

As well as being one of the world’s great hip hop groups, the Beastie Boys’ evolution also happens to be one of the scene’s most fascinating.

As well as bringing hip hop to a wider mainstream audience, the Beasties can also be credited for opening up the genre’s horizons, fusing in everything from alt-rock and sample-based psychedelics to punk ferocity.

And they did all with a sense of adventure, fun, and camaraderie.

So, how did a bunch of white kids playing ramshackle hardcore find themselves at the forefront of a cultural revolution?

And tomorrow, Friday 11 August, is a red-letter day for fans of the genre, being the fiftieth birthday of hip hop, which emerged at a party in NYC borough, The Bronx, on Saturday 11 August 1973.

Happy birthday hip hop.


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The workings of the universe are my spirit animal

29 July 2023

The best way to understand the universe — to whatever extent that is possible — may be to see the cosmos as an animal. A fascinating, yet somewhat unpredictable animal, says Andrew Pontzen, a professor of cosmology at University College London, writing for The Guardian:

It once seemed that, for all its immensity, the cosmos could be understood through the application of a small number of rigid physical laws. Newton encapsulated this idea, showing how apples falling from trees and planetary orbits around our sun arise from the same force, gravity.

J. B. S. Haldane, a Scottish mathematical biologist, said it best, in an essay he wrote almost one-hundred years ago, in 1927, titled Possible Worlds: “Now, my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” Words of wisdom, them.


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