Don’t wear gloves when you handle old books. From the British Library:

Whenever a manuscript is featured in the press or on television, we inevitably receive adverse comments about our failure to wear white gloves! The association of glove-wearing with handling old books is in fact a modern phenomenon, and one that has little scientific basis.

Essentially, we recommend that it is preferable to handle manuscripts with clean dry hands.

We were told the same thing when I studied book design at Reading. Gloves tend to cause more damage than they prevent. It’s one of those things that looks nice in photos.



Getting drunk in colonial America

A Toast to Your Health

Toasting, or ‘drinking healths,’ was a longstanding tradition in English culture. The act of honoring another and drinking to their health was a way for English drinkers to combine a display of respect with the consumption of alcohol – certainly a win-win situation for those who favored the practice. The act itself, while popular among the English, didn’t always gain favor from outside observers.


Origins of the blink tag

Lou Montulli, a former engineer with Netscape, writes about the origins of the blink tag. It seems that it was a lament for the lack of features in text-based browsers.

Back in 1994 I was a founding engineer at Netscape, prior to that I had written the Lynx browser, which predated all of the other popular browsers at that time. Lynx had been and still is a text only browser and is commonly used in a console window on UNIX machines.

Sometime in late summer I took a break with some of the other engineers and went to a local bar on Castro street in Mountain View. At some point in the evening I mentioned that it was sad that Lynx was not going to be able to display many of the HTML extensions that we were proposing, I also pointed out that the only text style that Lynx could exploit given its environment was blinking text. We had a pretty good laugh at the thought of blinking text, and talked about blinking this and that and how absurd the whole thing would be.

Saturday morning rolled around and I headed into the office only to find what else but, blinking text. It was on the screen blinking in all its glory, and in the browser. How could this be, you might ask? It turns out that one of the engineers liked my idea so much that he left the bar sometime past midnight, returned to the office and implemented the blink tag overnight. He was still there in the morning and quite proud of it.

Why am I not surprised that the idea originated in a bar.



On booting up a PDP-11/34

The NYC Resistor hacker collective recently got an old PDP-11/34 up and running again.

We rescued two PDP-11/34 computers and their associated equipment from a storage unit in the Bronx and have been working on getting them running again. The computing system included multiple RK05 hard drives, two RL02 decpack drives, a TU11 tape drive and tons of media, including “digitized monkey brains“.

Unsurprisingly, the operating system is not y2k compliant.



On progress bars

Here’s a somewhat fluffy NYT Magazine piece from Daniel Engber, titled Who Made That Progress Bar? He credits it to an interface designer named Bob Stahl. I found this tidbit interesting:

Myers asked 48 fellow students to run searches on a computer database, with and without a progress bar for guidance. Then he had them rate their experience. Eighty-six percent said they liked the bars. “People didn’t mind so much if it was inaccurate,” Myers says. “They still preferred the progress bar to not having anything at all.”

It lets the user know there’s magic happening behind the curtain.


Acceptable in the 90s

The folks who’ve made things on the Internet since the 1990’s have had a kick out Zach Holman’s piece Only 90s Web Developers Remember This. For me, it was the 1×1.gif:

1×1.gif should have won a fucking Grammy. Or a Pulitzer. Or Most Improved, Third Grade Gym Class or something. It’s the most important achievement in computer science since the linked list. It’s not the future we deserved, but it’s the future we needed (until the box model fucked it all up).

All the things I’ve forgotten. Blink, deal with it.


The story of an old-timey programming hack

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tom Moertel’s tale of a great old-timey game-programming hack, it reminded me of my computer science days and assembly programming.

A long time ago, when I was a college undergrad, I spent some time working on computer video games. This was in the 8-bit PC era, so the gaming hardware was almost impossibly slow by today’s standards.

It might not surprise you, then, to learn that, back then, game programmers did all sorts of crazy things to make their games run at playable speeds. Crazy, crazy things.

This is a story about one of those things.