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The ramblings of a whiskey affected mind

'Twas doing some coding work on Corroboree tonight and listening to music. To flavour the coke and to quell the wandering mind - as it's prone to do on a Thursday night after work - I opened a new bottle of Chivas Regal for a few tasters. Coding was progressing well, but there were too many idle moments between compiling and debugging, so I switched from music to podcasts. I don't get to listen to JJJ often lately, so I attempted to catch up on some shows. The current affairs show, Hack, was relevant, insightful and interesting as ever, but Dr Karl's Q&A quickly followed. Somewhere between the good doctor's frightfully detailed description of camels and his sharing of a common interest in the book of Leviticus, he mentioned LCD's and referred to a article on HowStuffWorks.

It'd been a while since I'd visited this site, which I've held in very high regard for many years, and so I decided to fill in a moment between programming and testing to visit it. Now, over two hours later, I'm once again amazed anyone is ever bored and once again floored with further realisation of the volume of informational material I'm unaware of.

While searching for the article on LCD's, I came across an article on continuous drive transmissions. Naturally, that really sparked some curiousity and I was soon reading and thinking about double clutch transmissions. Perhaps less naturally, I then moved to an article called "How The Da Vinci Code Doesn't Work". My knowledge of the infamous book is entirely constructed from critques and reviews and discussions, having never actually read the book itself. In general, I'd say I enjoy a good argument more than I enjoy a good story. Anyhow, the article lead me, among other things, to an essay entitled "The Da Vinci Code: Dan Brown and The Grail That Never Was". All fascinating reading, thoroughly enjoyable, but I don't care to comment on the material a great deal. Oddly, what prompted me to write, a glass and a half ago, was my old friend elitism.

Earlier today I learnt about the capabilities of top of the line function generators, the availability of special purpose ultrasound transducers, and the specifications of a high performance pulser and conversed with hundreds of people from around the world, all without leaving my chair and all within a small number of keyboard and mouse interactions. The Internet has not only made research easier, it has transformed information gathering. And here's the elitist part: in the past, the Internet was predominantly populated by intelligent information providers and seekers. A fine example is the world of Usenet or newsgroups - years ago the only people who accessed Usenet were those who made the effort to learn the protocol and by extension, were interested in productive information exchange. The barriers to entry were deemed too nerdy and self-serving however, and abominations like Outlook Express appeared. Suddenly the world of Usenet was polluted with lazy, thoughtless and damaging input and the signal to noise ratio plummeted. Usenet, instead of being a repository of discussions between experts and interested parties on particular topics, became the latest way to get free downloads and pornography site passwords. Of course, having irreversibly dumbed the experience down, the next step step was to "block" access. So Usenet became an underground society, with many corporations and ISPs limiting access or charging extra for the priviledge. Naturally then, the appeal of the forbidden spawned "cracks" and Usenet became a "hacker" tool. The damaging result on the quality of information in Usenet is a logical conclusion.

A similar story applies to IRC - formally a haven for like-minded and motivated individuals to group together and discuss their particular interest, it is now a "hacker's" tool for downloading copyrighted material and blindly "blocked" by many ISP's. And in similar blind fashion, every instant messaging protocol is a "chat room" solely designed for the purpose of providing means for pedophiles to find victims.

What brought on this rant? It was the gradual realisation, and the recent obvious clues, that the Internet is not viewed by the majority the way I view it. Few people seem to be aware of the sobering and rational viewpoint of Snopes, and prefer the extremist, emotional value of forwarding the story of a blind, dumb, limbless Ethiopian child with no face to everyone they know (actually, a personal relationship is irrelevant - you just need to be clickable). More people lack the critical skills to evaluate the human source of written information, lazily believing that "nothing on the Internet is true" to the point where Wikipedia is not trusted because it is on the Internet. HowStuffWorks and The Straight Dope are obfuscated in a sea of MySpace and Hotmail. Still more people pity the fools who don't read books, because 600 single-author dead-tree pages later, book readers not only have read a great, engaging, convincing story, they understand the thoughts of the author - despite not taking a few minutes to search the Internet for the actual cited references, and forming their own conclusions.

I shall let the revealing effects of written English work their fine, sloppy magic now. The only thing that remains is to recite a quote of Dan Brown's making that I particularly liked.

"A career hazard of symbologists [is] a tendency to
extract hidden meaning from situations that had none."
- Dan Brown

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