April First roundup

Man. You can tell the Internet is getting boring when no one bothers to do April Fool’s day pranks. Except for the following:

  • Google: Virgle: The Adventure of Many Lifetimes. Answer a questionnaire and upload a YouTube video and you could be on your way to Mars!
  • Zero in a Bit: New Attack Class: XSNADOR. Because we need more acronyms to describe the process of hacking things, this one will rise alongside XSS and XBI to fill a needed void: how to describe trivial hacks against social networking sites. In fact, I would propose a new meta-name for this type of acronym: YAVA (Yet Another Vulnerability Acronym).
  • Gmail: Custom Time. Send an email to the past!
  • YouTube: Every featured link on the home page is a RickRoll!
  • Google Calendar: Free wakeup kit!

Geez, other than Google (and, um, my company), is anyone else out there celebrating the foolishness?

Update: Okay, spoke too soon. While the placement of Ima Hogg as the featured article at Wikipedia might itself be an April Fools joke, surely the rewritten lead for the article definitely qualifies: “Ima Hogg was an enterprising circus emcee who brought culture and class to Houston, Texas. A storied ostrich jockey, she once rode to Hawaii to visit the Queen. Raised in government housing, young Ima frolicked among a backyard menagerie of raccoons, possums and a bear…”

And then there’s ever-reliable TidBITS: iPhone Goes International With Iridium, Take Control of (Backdating Stock Options, Swearing in Esperanto, Spouse Sharing in Leopard…), new Twitter feed, US Court Declares Email Bankruptcy Illegal, Mac Users Affected by New Virus, Merriam-Webster Accepts Sponsorship to Redefine Unlimited, and Time Machine Support Added to iPhone and iPod Touch. Nice job, guys. That’s more like it.

Electronic text comes to family research

When my grandfather passed away in January, I made a resolution that I would do what I could to ensure that he was not forgotten and that my descendants would know about him. So I started a little project that blossomed. The Brackbill Wiki is a set of pages I set up to collect family genealogy information, primarily original documents and pointers to photos. In the process of getting the site together, I also collected a bunch of information about various family members, friends, and institutions.

The core of the site is a set of documents from my grandfather and other family members that he gave to us or that he left behind. In particular, other family members and I are in the process of transcribing four years of his journal that span from the time he graduated from the state teachers’ college to the time my mom was born. The 1939 journal has been completely transcribed and the 1940 journal is in progress. We also used the site to provide a new home for my sister’s project, “Great Aunt Eva’s Blog,” which disappeared when her old blog host shut down. Esta is in the process of bringing it back on the new site right now.

There are a bunch of cool things that have come out of the process of transcribing these journals. I’ve gained a new appreciation for my grandparents’ lives (just how did they work six days a week and go out every night to choir practices and committee meetings? I only work five and I’m exhausted when I get home), for the people they spent time with (Twiddley!), and the infrastructure in which they grew up. I’ve also gotten to know my grandfather, and his sense of humor, a little better.

What occurred to me the other day was how this project is analogous, on a humbler scale, to big digital humanities projects like the Valley of the Shadow project, in which former UVA professor Ed Ayers and a team of students indexed and digitized reams of original materials from two Civil War era communities. In this case, our scope and our team is quite a bit smaller, but thanks to the wiki technology we used the material is coming together quite a bit faster.

Note, 2017-03-29: the Brackbill Wiki has since moved to a new location.