Thursday, September 15, 2005

An Infinite Number Of Monkeys

After all the Shakespeare, the book
of poems they type is the saddest
in history.

But before they can finish it,
they have to wait for that Someone
who is always

looking to look away. Only then
can they strike the million
keys that spell

humiliation and grief, which are
the great subjects of Monkey

and not, as some people still
believe, the banana
and the tire.

-- Ronald Koertge
A superbly odd little poem, with a splash of pathos thrown in, the allusions are clearly similar to E2's sweet mayhem with its surreal vision colliding with the sadness of everyday life. One writes what one knows, and a thousand monkeys captive before a thousand typewriters would have a more intimate knowledge of those two emotions than of bananas and tires. For those unfamiliar with the infinite monkeys meme, Professor Pi defines it very well in his write up Infinite Monkeys Theorem:
    This theorem states that if you put an infinite number of monkeys behind typewriters, eventually one will write the script for Hamlet. Alternatively a finite number of monkeys with infinite time will also accomplish this. The implication is that a problem or task of any complexity can be solved using brute force trial-and-error, even without intrinsic knowledge of a system, nor the intelligence to adapt to a situation.
This piece was first published in Ronald Koertge's Making Love to Roget's Wife (1997). There is scant information about the author on the web, though he is well respected enough as a poet that his work is regularly used in literary classes. He currently resides in South Pasadena, CA where he is professor of English at Pasadena City College. Here is a selection from a student essay that explains who inspired Koertge. It was a bit of a surprise:
    I read Cummings in graduate school when I was supposed to be reading somebody else. He was fun to read. Not only did he write great poems like "Buffalo Bill's / defunct" but he wrote lines like "my Uncle Sol's farm / failed because the chickens / ate the vegetables so." He wrote a lot about kissing -- a subject I wanted to major in...In "I sing of Olaf" he used the kind of words I used every day, but he used them better. Naturally I used to write as he did which was about as successful as any drum-and-bugle corps rendition of [end page 44](sic) "Ave Maria." But more than nearly anyone from those days he gave me a sense of permission to be foolish and carnal in print; he taught me to value the off-hand, and to listen attentively to any messages from the kingdom of the off.
In fact a metaphor can be exposed if one simply scratches the surface. Writing on E2 resonates with the same run of steady and frank humanity, a voice that chuckles at itself, often prodding the reader a bit, but it's forever stunning and enlightening when the one discovers something of themselves.

An Infinite Number of Monkeys is a pointed and insightful observation on the funny side of life while evocative of the more painful facets as well. The notion that the monkeys are just waiting for the "Someone who is always looking" to turn away for an moment so that they can create their work of art, complements the stories that harkens back to youthful fantasies of toys coming to life in the unknowable recesses of the imagination. Indeed the poem is very redolent of Billy Collins. Its expressions on how art and poetry relate between the author and the readers, along with a brilliant "what if" suspension of disbelief. The poem creates a kind of magic realism that draws the audience in and invites them to participate in the process. And who can say for sure - perhaps humiliation and heartache really are the grand subjects of Monkey Literature.


The Influence of Cummings on Selected Contemporary Poets
Jul 08 2004

Making Love to Roget's Wife: Poems
Accessed Jul 08 2004

The Wondering Minstrels
Accessed Jul 08 2004

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty; it is the academic equivalent of larceny. Sibling to plagiarism, is forgery and both are defined in terms of not being genuine, but being presented to the reader as genuine, and so presented with the intention to deceive. Reputedly and apparently, qualities or character has to do with authorship, or source of issue. Comparatively, the difference between plagiarism and forgery is that a person plagiarizes when he attempts to fob off another's work as his own, however he forges when he tries to pass off his own work as another's. Both are prima facie morally wrong.

With the advent of the internet there have been a number of issues brought to the forefront. "Houses of Cheat," as some web sites have been referred to by academic institutions, have popped up like weeds selling or giving away papers on almost any subject. Many students are tempted to "Download their Workload" either because they are unsuspecting freshmen or simply lack integrity. Most colleges and universities have adopted very strict policies for dealing with plagiarism considering it a major crime that earns the plagiarizer a failing grade in the course. In many cases the school expels the student and the act of plagiarism is made a matter of record on the student's transcript.

There is very little philosophical literature on plagiarism but what creates the issues surrounding what is plagiarism and what is not, is the fact that many times there is a legitimate influence. Simply put, most work is affected by others, with all kinds of results in their work. Hence plagiarism is typically reserved, for the conspicuously offensive lifting of material in an unchanged or only slightly changed form and its presentation as the plagiarist's own work. If in doubt I highly recommend reading
Plagiarism: What It is and How to Recognize and Avoid It at

It gives some very excellent examples vs. non examples of plagiarism under the sub heading How to Recognize Unacceptable and Acceptable Paraphrases

Merriam Webster defines the transitive sense as, "to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own: use (another's production) without crediting the source." and the intransitive sense as, "to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source." Webster dates it earliest known usages in print as 1716 and notes that the related noun for this word is plagiarizer.

The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology relates a little etymology," plagiarism comes from the English noun plagiary, meaning "literary thief." What's more, the English plagiary was borrowed from the French plagiere, which was borrowed from the Latin plagi_rius [sic – ed.] meaning "kidnaper, seducer, plunderer or literary thief." " (1621)

More history of the word. It was used during the seventeenth century from an obsolete noun plagiary meaning kidnapper or a kidnapping, theft or a thief of ideas. Plaga is the Latin word that indicated a snare or hunting net for capturing animals. Plagium was also used to denote the netting of game, as well as, for the crime of kidnapping children to be sold into slavery. A plagerous was a kidnapper. By the first century AD, the same word was used to refer to a literary thief or plagiarist. From this sense, plagiarism came to describe the practice of stealing the ideas or words of others and passing them off as one's own. One etymologist, Alan Rosiene tells an interesting story of how the subject of literary property in ancient Rome evolved from hunter to criminal and finally into metaphor from the Greek poet M. Valerius Martialis:

    "As states, it is M. Valerius Martialis who first transferred the concept of "kidnapping" to plagiarism of literary works. Counting varies in different editions of Martial's epigrams...

    Apparently, the legal term for one who stole a child or slave was 'plagium,' and the person so doing was known as plagiarius. Martial's epigram (I.52) transfers the use of the word to the theft (or borrowing, to mitigate the matter) of another's words and seems to be the first such use (though the argument about filching others' words already had a long history by Martial's day (in Greece as well as Rome), with varied opinions about the rightfulness or wrongness of such acts.

    (An) edition of Martial's first book, from (a London edition, 1980) does not much differ on this point... According to (the reference) plagiarius never refers to a "plagiarist" in Classical Latin, except for the metaphorical use in Martial 1.52.9. Lorenzo Valla...picks up Martial's metaphor to refer to someone who was using his work. The use, an extension of a legal metaphor in Martial picked up by Lorenzo Valla, caught on.

    Interesting (to note) that Gk. *plagiazô,* from *plagios,* has the meaning "turn aside, pervert, use tortuous methods" in the Septuagint and Philo .... and *plagios* itself is said to come from *plazô* .....which Aristarchus took for a form of *plêssô* ...I suppose. *plagios* already has the sense "morally crooked" in the 5th cent B.C." [typography standardized – ed.]

In 1779 writers were poking fun at plagiarism with a played called The Critic where there appeared a disputable and highly questionable character created by Richard Brinsley Sheridan who took the name from the word `plagiarism' called Sir Fretful Plagiary. It is a lively parody on the problems of producing a play, with Sir Plagiary as a burlesqued persona of Richard Cumberland, a well-known author of a number of very sentimental and successful comedies who also translated Greek plays such as Aristophanes.

You might be interested to know that there has been a plagiarist detector invented by Walter Stewart and Ned Feder at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The instrument has an optical scanner that inputs the text under scrutiny into a computer that is programmed to group it into lines of thirty characters that overlap and then compared against material related to the same subject matter. Highlighting in boldfaced type occurs when there are any exact matches. The device has been used in a number of situations with success. The inventors of the system 'have learned ... that plagiarism is rare; and that people who copy do so from obscure places and chiefly from dead authors' (International Herald Tribune, 8 Jan. 1992).


Accessed Aug 19 2002

Index of messages from Classics.Log9506b
Accessed Aug 19 2002

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, copyright 1999 Merriam-Webster, Inc

Accessed Aug 19 2002

Monday, September 12, 2005

Slashdot effect

Larry Niven wrote a wonderful essay on the topic of teleportation, "The Theory and Practice of Teleportation." Later in 1973 Niven wrote a short story called "Flash Crowd" about the effects of teleportation on a society and published it in a collection of short story sci-fi pieces called The Flight of the Horse. Since then flash crowd has become one of those many wonderful Nivenism's given to us science fiction fans that have become a part of our intrinsic vernacular.

Most of the time in science fiction teleportation is pretty benign. For instance in Gene Roddenberry's quadrant of the cosmos it's simply used as a plot device to move the story along or save the day at the last minute. However in Niven's Universe he forecasts that one impact of low-priced teleportation would be vast multitudes of people materializing almost instantaneously at the location of headline making news reports. As a result a point would be reached where no one could transport out of the area as even more gawkers wanting to view the scene first hand blocked the transport booths. Nivenisms in the News explains that a "Flash Crowd" develops like this:

    Riot begins, more rioters transport in after seeing riot begin on the news, more news reporters transport in, every johnny-come-lately wanting a view of the riot transports in, every mad religious cultist wanting exposure transports in as well as looters who are coming in to take advantage of the overwhelming crowds.

In another narrative Larry Niven also had cheap teleportation units used as a sort of piecewise mass-transit system on the world inhabited by a space-faring race he invented, the Pierson's Puppeteers. Even earlier science fiction literature contains a number of examples of stories that are all about teleportation and its changes on society.

Predating Niven by two decades was well known science fiction author Alfred Bester who wrote Tiger, Tiger! in 1956 which was later re-titled The Stars My Destination (You didn't think Bester was that bad guy on Babylon 5 did you?) In his book he discusses teleportation from an individual point of view and makes a close inspection of the impact upon a society in which a great number of people can teleport themselves by mental effort. Even though not everyone has this ability Bester examines how this changes groups of societies. Known as jaunting, in one scenario houses have been built specifically to try and keep out teleporting criminals. These ne'er do well's also teleport around the world, staying under the cover of darkness. Other effects of this teleportation ability are messenger services established for instantaneous transport making transportation services obsolete, hence trains become collector's items for the idle rich. No doubt J. Michael Straczynski borrowed Bester's name and his tale for the telepathic social group he created on Babylon 5.

While novelist Bester's flash crowds arrived to pillage and plunder after a disaster Niven's were there to gawk and today two decades later the term has evolved on the cutting edge of the technological wave as the Slashdot effect. The expression shows a significant potential for entering every day usage not only on the Internet but the real world too. It's one which describes exponential spikes in website or server usage when one passes a certain threshold of popular interest or when flash crowds build up on Internet sites where the unexpected popularity and demand on the server is beyond its capabilities.

Some sources cite one associated phrase for the Slashdot Effect as a Denial of Service Attack or "A brute force attack designed to eat up available bandwidth or max out a piece of equipment's capabilities." However, most agree that since the Slashdot Effect is unintentional it is better described as a flash crowd.

Word Spy, a web site about up-and-coming words recently featured the phrase Slashdot effect. Paul McFedries describes his site as ".... devoted to recently coined words and phrases, old words that are being used in new ways, and existing words that have enjoyed a recent renaissance. These aren't "stunt words" or "sniglets," but new words and phrases that have appeared in newspapers, magazines, books, press releases, and Web sites." Word spy is a reasonably reliable Internet source with several citations from published periodicals. With regards to the Slashdot effect Paul McFedries explains his research so far:

    I've included a "First Use"* citation for this phrase, but I don't have much confidence in it because the phrase is preceded by the "so-called" qualifier. This tells me that the phrase was in use prior to July 28, 1998. I suspect the phrase was coined on Slashdot itself, so if some "Slashdotter" reads this and knows the true origin of the phrase Slashdot effect, I'd love to hear it.
    ( If you would care to contact Mr. McFedries his homepage is You can find an email link from there.)

Mr. McFedries' research so far has revealed that the term came into general use during the latter half of the last decade of the 20th century. Five years ago and from the somewhat dubious source and "lighter side of Linux" in the Fake News department of James Baughn proffered a shaggy dog story on July 26, 1998 called 'Slashdot Effect' Causes Havoc in Redmond

    The website was offline part of yesterday as a result of the so-called 'Slashdot Effect'. Yesterday morning, Rob Malda (aka CmdrTaco) posted an article on his "News for Nerds" website. The article linked to a page on the Microsoft website that announced Windows NT 5.0 would probably be delayed until early 2001. Tens of thousands of nerds visited the page and brought the NT-based website to its knees.

Did Mr. Baughn know where his little pastiche on MS would lead? At the beginning of 1999 the turn of phrase first appeared in print in the February issue of a high tech rag called Wired Magazine a periodical that served as both 'Boswell and bomb thrower for the geekerati ', featuring an article written by Gareth Branwyn named "Jargon Watch"

    Slashdot Effect When a Web site is brought to its knees after being mentioned (and hyperlinked) on, the popular "News for Nerds" site. "The Forbes site fell victim to the slashdot effect after a story was posted about Linus Torvalds being on the cover."

Even though "it doesn't carry the swagger and prestige" it once did Wired is still in publication today but as fate and capitalism would have it what many hoped "would be a Trojan horse for revolution" was eventually sold in 1998 to the magazine corporation Conde Nast.

Shortly before the Wired article there had been a study and subsequent abstract published about the equipment overload effect by Stephen Adler titled The Slashdot Effect An Analysis of Three Internet Publications. In part Mr. Adler tells what happened, " (I) decided to dig thought my httpd access_log files in search of the /. effect, .....put on my experimentalist hat and wrote up a short paper, in scientific prose, to document it. announced it on Feb 1st, 1999...... The /. effect article ... was so popular, that it had over 16,000 readers in under 48 hours." As a result Mr. Adler also did a follow up study Addendum to the Slashdot Effect Internet Paper. The original paper has some very interesting graphs and charts that illustrate the Slashdot effect. The URL is listed in the "Sources" at the bottom of this write-up if you would like to see them. He states that the purpose of the study was, " .... to document the existence of the Slashdot Effect and not to try and gauge which news web site has the predominant reader-ship." In his conclusions based upon the data gathered Mr. Adler noted:

    (T)he term Slashdot Effect has been referenced many times on sites around the Internet. With the publication of articles related to Linux and the Open Source movement, and the announcement of these articles to Linux related news web sites, one has a chance of documenting, in a controlled environment, this effect. The plots of the hit rate received by the hosting server clearly shows the existence of the Slashdot Effect. This effect varies in magnitude for different reasons. One reason being the interest of the readership in the content of the article being announced. Another reason being the form in which the article is announced. For example, the article titled "an Ode to Richard Stallman" was announced by Slashdot and Linux Today. Linux Today published the text of the article on their own web site, thus keeping many of the hits, by readers interested in this article, on their server. This strongly dampens the surge in hit rate to the system hosting the full article. On the other hand, Slashdot announced the article via a hyper link to the server hosting the full article and thus the local host received all the hits from Slashdot readers.

With such an impressive pedigree it looks like the phrase Slashdot effect may be headed into a permanent place in the parlance of the Internet and the worldwide community. I'm not sure what it means but this week there was some sort of 'priceless karma' and fifteen minutes of fame allotted to me by several of my son's friends because they discovered my notes about the Slashdot effect while researching this topic for E2. They had no idea the websites were related.

Since Slashdot and Everything2 are Kissing Cousins or maybe Crazy Uncles would be a better way to describe the friendly relationship between both sites, they have a great deal to share in common among their growing families. It's important to include the probable evolvement of this expression here as a key part of the relationships, not only as an etymological one, but also as a rather unique part of the historical record on E2.

In the beginnings of Everything1 and later on Everything2 most of the people that laid the foundations were a few of the creators, as well as, a number of regulars from Slashdot. From the fall of 1999 until the summer of 2000 when I asked a user how they found E2 on the web every single answer was "from Slashdot". Today more than half the users I ask will say they found it from Google, a friend showed it to them or name another source.

Maybe there are a few readers who are wondering what exactly is Slashdot. Well the web site is kind of hard to describe. Regulars will frequently use the symbol /. when referring to the website. That's a "forward slash" followed by a "period" on the keyboard for those like me who are slow on the uptake. Gee willikers! It was months before I got that aha! moment. While I don't have an account there, I do visit and read up on technological discussions that interest me. I think it's a very reliable source, for example I was interested in what was being said by the Internet community about the RIAA. If you're interested in paying them a visit you can point your browser to:

I have a friend who exclaims "I read /. at least five times a day!" I can certainly see why he enjoys it so much. It's quite a unique website and very popular. One source says there are over five million visitors daily. Described as a "microcosm of hacker culture" each day several links are posted about news items, stories or other things of interest to the readers there. According to one description the articles that are most 'frequently submitted by hackers' are the ones posted by the Slashdot editors in a venue that allows a moderated discussion. For a great number of die-hard fans it is the dialogue that is more essential than the story piece itself. Along with the extremely decentralized moderation structure, together with an exceptionally customizable site presentation that helps to "control the sheer size of comments and stories.... In some ways Slashdot's structure is... decentralized, with stress on the individual; toned-down style; obsessively configurable."

With millions of visitors a day, postings of stories can cause the server that holds the "target link to crash from sheer volume." This is called "the Slashdot effect" and pronounced SLASH.dawt uh.fekt. The noun phrase is defined by Word Spy as:

    A sharp and often overwhelming increase in a Web site's traffic, particularly after the site is featured on Also: /. Effect.
    -Slashdot v.

"That site has been slashdotted again!" While a Slashdotter is a noun, as in a person who regularly reads and comments at Slashdot, a related turn of phrase that is used frequently in conjunction with Slashdot effect as a verb is "Slashdotted." The word is widely used by Slashdotters. If a person declares he or she is being Slashdotted that means their website is in effect inaccessible since too many people are hitting it after the website was referred to in an article and following commentary on Slashdot.

Mr. McFedries' cites a highly regarded source that discusses the phrase surrounding this effect when it was published in June 2002 in Technology Review "MIT's magazine of innovation" that "is at the center of the conversation on emerging technologies":

    While Rob-don't call him Robert-Malda may fit the irreverent hacker stereotype, his finest hack does not. Malda is founder of Holland, MI-based Slashdot, a Web site cum online community cum Internet Zeitgeistmeter visited by more than 250,000 surfers daily. What started in 1997 as an online hangout for Malda's cronies to trade banter on geek subjects is now "the number one site for tech news and geek ranting," according to the Washington Post. Contributors recommend news items to Slashdot, where Malda and his small staff create links to the stories and write introductory paragraphs. Readers post comments, which are then graded by other readers. Many times, Web sites whose addresses are cited experience the "Slashdot effect"-an increase in traffic so sharp that their operations sometimes halt.
    ( TR100/2002)

Yow! there was a Summer of 2002 flashback of cooking dinner while listening to Geeks in Space when I read that! The Slashdot effect continues to hold onto its movement from the Internet to the real world of publications, especially as one of the modern day defining moments. As recently as last month on June 13th 2003 columnists David Joachim and Brad Shimmin who are "longtime networking professionals providing unique perspectives on critical topics and trends" penned in their periodical Network Computing an article titled Thanks (for Nothing), Slashdot:

    As publishers, we long for those times when Internet fate smiles upon us, bestowing a mention on, an act that usually precipitates a favorable influx of traffic known lovingly as the "slashdot effect."


Addendum to The Slashdot Effect Internet Paper by Stephen Adler
Jul 27 2003

The Slashdot Effect An Analysis of Three Internet Publications
Accessed Jul 27 2003

"F" Terms The Jargon Dictionary
Accessed Jul 27 2003

Hacking subculture
Accessed Jul 27 2003

MIDS Glossary of Terms Related to Matrix IQ
Accessed Jul 27 2003

The Word Spy
Accessed Jul 27 2003