Sun, Feb
23
2003

Digital Alexandria Is Burning

blizzard

Before I get to today's thoughts, here are some random things:

First of all, check out this site. I figured out how it was done pretty quickly, but it's still neat. Isn't math beautiful?

The big southern Ontario blizzard held off until the evening, which was good because it allowed Erin and I to meet Welwyn and Rod for drinks after Welwyn's excellent workshop on fantasy writing. It was a good day all round. Not only was it nice to chat over a couple of drinks, but I got a lot out of Welwyn's talk.

She made the point that sometimes you have to write a book backwards. You start with an initial situation that sets up the characters and the conflicts. Then you get to know the characters. Finally, you ask yourself what is the absolute worst thing that could happen to your characters as a result of this conflict and any internal dilemmas they may have. If the characters have or can gain the tools to resolve this moment, there's your climax, and you ask yourself, what has to happen immediatley beforehand to bring the climax about. And what has to happen before that? And what has to happen before that?

Thinking this over, I realized that The Young City's climax doesn't quite work. Faith and Edmund have the potential for a strong emotional climax, but Peter and Rosemary don't. And what would be the worst thing that could possibly happen to them? Not that they'd lose the ability to return home, but rather that they'd lose each other.

As Welwyn says, writers are mean and sadistic people.

This alters The Young City somewhat. No, I'm not going to split Peter and Rosemary apart at the end. There's the worst-moment, then there's the climax, and it's at the climax that we can decide whether the book is a tragedy or (going by the literal definition) a comedy. Then we have the resolution. Peter and Rosemary won't lose each other, and they will get home, but for a moment they will think that they will lose each other. Either way, I've got to bring the time travel element to the fore, and tie it more closely to Faith and Edmund's story.


What has happened to the Internet's status as the world's biggest library? Have portions of the electronic Alexandria started to burn down?

A reader, when complimenting me for an article I'd written earlier about the nature of terrorism, noted that my link to an archive of Gwynne Dyer's archives no longer worked. Strangely enough, it worked the day that I'd wrote that article. It worked almost a year beforehand, when I researched another article.

Gwynne Dyer, for those who don't know, is an astute and interesting military historian and commentator. Among his books and television series, he's written the excellent War and The Human Race. I feel that he doesn't pull punches; he's witty and sardonic, but he also has a core of optimism within him. He made a statement, which still sticks with me, that for the first time in the history of civilization, the majority of the human race lives in some form of democracy, and this trend is increasing. Democratic nations are, on average, far better at solving social, political and environmental problems than dictatorial nations.

However, Gwynne Dyer is a hard person to find on the Internet. He doesn't have his own home page (Update: he does now. Click here. And, for a long while, the Hamilton Spectator was the only newspaper which kept an online archive of his columns... Until now.

The Hamilton Spectator has joined other Torstar papers in taking their electronic archives offline, and making the searching of their papers a paid service. The K-W Record also recently announced that its electronic archive was going private, and to view old articles, you had to subscribe. The National Post article on transit fanatics in which I appeared is now offline.

It may be the newspapers' right to do this, but it still irks me. For those who have the time and are willing to make the effort, we can go to our local library and look up articles from The Globe from 1884, without having to pay a fee. Fortunately, the newspapers haven't moved to curtail the activities of Netizens who collect electronic copy and post it online, but is this an act of a socially conscious newspaper, or an oversight? And if newspapers moved to block the free access of their electronic articles from the Net, what makes the Net activities so wrong when the libraries' activities are so right?

It is true that we're talking about the Hamilton Spectator's servers and computer time, here. The Hamilton Spectator is not a library and thus doesn't have a responsibility to provide free access to its material. But why has there been no move to put archives of whole newspapers online? If the Net is to be the electronic library we expect it to be, this would have to be a prominent feature, wouldn't it?

I would like to see a government somewhere spend a little money to build an online newspaper archive. It would be tax supported, as all libraries are. Libraries are a symbol of the government's responsibility to keep its citizens educated and informed. The great online library deserves this same attention.

In the meantime, can anybody point me the way to a good, independent, online newspaper archive?


Update - Sept 23, 2003: Soon after I posted this article, the Hamilton Spectator dropped its online archive and became a subscriber-only service. It became very hard to find links to any of Gwynne Dyer's articles... until now. His website is currently under development, although it may still be full of broken links. Note, if you click on a 2003 article and you come up with a File Not Found error, simply type in "_2003" after "/articles" and you will get what you're looking for.


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