Thursday, July 21, 2005

Diogenes, Nasrudin, Quixote, and Link Rot

Diogenes, it's said, once made a point of going about with a lamp, looking for an honest man. Nasrudin rode about on his donkey, telling people he was looking for his donkey. Don Quixote---well, you know about Cervantes's Don Quixote, don't you?

I'm in good company.
The first-linked-to article on Diogenes says "Diogenes left behind him no system of philosophy. After the example of his school, he was more attentive to practical than to theoretical wisdom."

Then, below, it says "The author of this article is anonymous. The IEP is actively seeking an author who will write a replacement article."

The second article linked to in my first sentence is an amusing one, but I have no idea how long it will remain at the other end of the link. Cynically, I expect that eventually it will 404.

The noble Wayback Machine might be of some service in that event. But, un-fed by the advertising engine that is Google, its snapshots are infrequent. (No gratuitous link to Google will be provided; as an advertisement put it about the Pepsi Generation, "If you're livin', you belong.")

Above, I spoke of being in good company. My company is not with Cervantes himself: my life has not been that hard. Above I made my expectation clear that you know of Don Quixote. But ah, Don de la Mancha and I! We have shared many conversations. Especially, we have discussed honesty, compassion and objectivity, and beauty and love, and the kind of life that is worth living, long into the night.

But that was long ago. And now, the Don languishes in a kind of spell. He is convinced that the structure that surrounds him is maintained by madmen. That a governor's clumsy tongue is evidence of idiocy. This and many other things he believes, and some of these things contradict each other. I fear my friend the Don is deluded. We do not speak very much any more.

But that, though it brings my heart much sorrow, is not what this posting is about. No, this posting is about the bright shining image of what the Don wanted to bring to the world---and still does, may God bless him!, and he's still, most tragically, right---before the world turned down a path that was maddeningly close... and it is about what we must, maddeningly, settle for, if we are to live in the world as it is.

He wanted to create a world where practically nothing ever went out of print, you see. Where link rot and 404s (though he did not call them that) were only the result of court orders. Where one could revise and correct, but each version remained intact. Where one, anyone, could trace the progress of a work, of literature itself, as it iterated, and grew, spreading its leaves to catch as much Quality as it could.

Richard Gabriel has tilted at the "Worse is Better" windmill for some time, and he has blown hot and cold about the concept since his original paper. My old friend the Don, and those who labored with him, and I in my small way, had "The Right Thing" in mind.

It is pointless to speculate how much better the world would be, had Project Xanadu actually shipped, and more importantly, caught on in the marketplace. Arguably, it couldn't have---it was too different, not just-different-enough. And I am mostly at peace with that. I will not address any of the calumnies of the past, written by those with cheap eyes. No, the truth is that Xanadu came with too many strings attached, and that is that.

In a way, it is poetic justice that I, and you, must settle for a literature not too much better than the paper one of yore---and even, on some axes, worse, for paper survives where bits do not.

One must satisfy oneself that sand painting beats not painting at all. Tantric Buddhist or Navajo, or sui generis---if you want to paint a perfect painting, it's easy; just make yourself perfect and then paint naturally. Gumptionology is about "making for" the port of perfection, without letting perfectionism, or a sea of troubles, thwart you.


Blogger Nortius Maximus said...

As a sort of a footnote to the above, and the "can't-get-arrested" problem for real innovation on the Web:

A worthy prototype system (and yes, he wrote code that worked) to implement fine-grained bidirectional links---one part of the vision of Xanadu---is described at

...but the URL mentioned in that paper is now in some other entity's custody. Sic transit linkia mundi. Ave atque vale.

Ping (Ka-Ping Yee) has probably made the code available somewhere.

02 August, 2005 01:39  

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