Saturday, April 04, 2020

Yes, internet has a patron saint

Isidore Glass painted by Iris Gerritsen, Delft, private collection, 2005. 

Today in 636, Isidore of Seville, patron saint of libraries and internet, died. You might wonder why he became the patron saint of internet. 

The Roman Catholic Church has a legion of canonized and fantasy saints; saints for any day and any event in life. Saint Isidore was canonized in 653 in Toledo as he was an example to Christians and non-Christians, played a role in the church as the bishop of Seville and he was a theologian and scholar. Pope John Paul II designated him, besides being already the patron of written and print products such as catalogues and libraries, in 2005 as the patron saint of the digital medium internet. He received this title for the encyclopaedic work he undertook by compiling a summa of universal knowledge, the Etymologiae. This encyclopaedia is better known as Origines and consists of a compilation of 448 chapters in 20 volumes. Personally I like this saint as I recognise resemblances with his life.

During the Fourth Council of Toledo in 633 Isidore ordered seminaries at the Spanish cathedrals. He made Greek, Hebrew and the liberal arts compulsory subjects there, while promoting law and medicine. I studied at  minor and major seminaries in my youth and was educated in Greek and Latin, philosophy and theology and graduated as a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, La in 1970.
Having completed my studies, I declined a clerical career, returned to The Netherlands and got into publishing general reference works; a stint which lasted 10 years. In 1970 I joined a publishing company which was setting up a new 25 volumes general encyclopaedia and in the second publishing company we even produced a weekly part work encyclopaedia, named Summa.

In 1980 I got into the new media business, first in online ASCII and videotext, later into offline media as magnetic and optical discs, until internet came about in the nineties. In online as well as in offline I remained interested in encyclopaedias such as the printed 21-volumes Academic American Encyclopaedia, which was turned into electronic products by Grolier and distributed online by The New York Times Information Bank, the Dow Jones News/Retrieval and Compuserve and offline on CD-ROM. As a Dutch native I saw with interest the publication of the Interactive Encyclopaedia on CD-I by Philips. IN 1994 internet came around in in 1994 as an all-round knowledge medium with search engines such as AltaVista and Yahoo, to be pushed aside by Google, which started in 1998 and by the free encyclopaedia Wikipedia in 2001.

There is a lot of likeness between Isidore and me, but he is a saint and I am not. He is the patron saint of written and printed catalogues and print libraries and since this century of the digital medium internet. I am a  librarian of a knowledge wall of 20 printed multi-volumes encyclopaedias and a curator of pre-internet’s online streams such as ASCII, videotex and a depot of  some offline information carriers such as floppy discs, videodiscs, CD-ROMs and CD-I’s.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

26 March 1976: First royal e-mail

Today in 1976 the first royal e-mail was sent by the British Queen Elizabeth II. She visited the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment, the telecom research institute in Malvern, on the occasion of the use of the connection with the American ARPANET, the forerunner of the internet.

Engineer Peter Kirsten had created an email account with the username HME2 and prepared a message. The queen just needed to press a few buttons and the message was forwarded, Peter Kirsten recalled. Happily, a photograph was taken as a memory of this historical event.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Re-run of the blog Europe Day of 5/9/2007

This is are-run of a blog I wrote in 2007, which reflects my attitude towards the European Union. Will you vote tomorrow?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Europe Day

Today it is the Day of Europe. Normally it is a day on which attention is asked for Europe, the unity and policies. But this year it is 50 years ago that in Rome on March 24, 1957a treaty for economic co-operation was signed by Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and The Netherlands. (see the story below).

Since high school I have known that I was living in Europe. Our family was living close to the German border and my boarding school was close to the Belgian border. During my period as a managing editor for a reference department, I was working with a Belgian publishing company in Antwerp. And from the early eighties I worked in the United Kingdom in London for the VNU publishing company.

In 1980 I took notice of the new EC datanetwork Euronet-Diane, which was introduced in The Netherlands in 1980 (with Ms Kroes, the present competition minister, who was a minister of Transport and Communication at that time). (See photograph). But by 1982 I got in touch with the European Commission. I met an EC official in London during a dinner of the Online Conference. He was part of the research department Directorate General XIII in Luxembourg. We stayed in contact and by 1983 I applied for a grant to introduce a daily electronic newsletter for the computer industry. It was to be an electronic counterpart to the printed newsletter. The grant of 60.000 ecu (roughly the same as euro) was awarded and the daily electronic newsletter was launched on December 1, 1984 and turned out to be the first electronic daily newsletter in Europe.

Ever since that project I have been involved in European projects, sometimes as a researcher or project participant, sometimes as an evaluator and reviewer of projects. In 1993 in the early days of multimedia CD-ROMs I was asked to write a report on CD-Data. In 2002 my company was involved in the ACTeN project a fully funded content project, which lasted two years. It took me around Europe for round table meetings, summer schools and lectures; besides the consortium generated one of the scarce books on content E-Content – Technologies and Perspectives for the European Market (2005).

It has been difficult for the European Commission to execute a coherent policy. This has to do with the division of tasks. ICT and especially digital media have different programmes: research, media and regional programmes.

An improvement in this fragmentation was the merger of the research programme IST with the EU Media programme. With coordination between research and close to the market projects results can be improved. The EU Media programme still has to be less dogmatic as to movies and interactive media as digitisation is influencing the production chain.

But these programmes (IST, EU Media and regional) can also be confusing to companies and especially Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs). Especially since the EC started to introduce again big projects, in which companies like Philips, Nokia and BBC participate. Officially these companies should take in the consortium SMEs, but in practice this proves to be difficult. For an SME it is difficult to get in programmes as they are asked for accounts of three years and will have to do a lot of administration.

And not all consortia work. Only yesterday Germany in its function of presiding country noticed that the satellite navigation project Galileo had lost its way; head-banging did not help any longer, so another route had to be searched for.

Despite the political problems and programme problems, I am glad that there is a European Union. I personally think of myself as a European rather than a Dutchman.

(Preparing the blog I read the story that the Treaty of Rome was signed on 180 pages of blank pages in 1957. The printer of the Treaty was unable to finish the assignement in time for the signing ceremony. On the day of signing, the ministers were requested to sign pages without any text. The story was told by Professor Hendrik Vos of Gent University on 22 March 2007.)

Friday, April 12, 2019

BPN1749: Dutch media art canon launched

LI-MA, the Dutch platform for media art, new technologies and digital culture, has launched the Digital Canon. The canon consists of twenty digital media artworks, made on Dutch soil between 1960-2000. The Digital Canon project was unveiled on Friday, March 22 at LIMA in Amsterdam as a closing event of LIMA's annual symposium Transformation Digital Art. The primary objective of the project is to add these digital works to the collective cultural memory and to fuel the discussion about the selection and preservation of digital art. Explore the digital canon at

 (Text press release below illustration)

Screenshot homepage

The canon
The digital canon consists of twenty digital artworks made on Dutch soil between 1960 and 2000:
The Senster (1968-1970) - Edward Ihnatowicz
Computerstructuren (1969-1972) - Peter Struycken
Violin Power (1969-1978) - Steina
Moiré (1970-1975) - Livinus & Jeep van de Bundt
Ideofoon I (1970-2013) - Dick Raaijmakers
Points of View (1983) - Jeffrey Shaw
The Hands (1984-2000) - Michel Waisvisz
Institute of Artificial Art Amsterdam (1990-now) - Remko Scha (1995) - Jodi
Breed (1995-2007) - Driessens & Verstappen
Nara Zoyd/La Zoyd’s Pataverse (1996-1998) - Yvonne le Grand
clickclub (1996-2001) - Peter Luining (1996-now) - Martine Neddam
the_living (1997-1998) - Debra Solomon
Being Human (1997-2007) - Annie Abrahams
#11, Marey <-> Moiré (1999) - Joost Rekveld
TST (2000) - Bas van Koolwijk
Scrollbar Composition (2000) - Jan Robert Leegte
Spatial Sounds (100dB at 100 km/h) (2000) - Marnix de Nijs and Edwin van der Heide
Agora Phobia (digitalis) (2000-2009) - Lancel/Maat

Project and team 
The project has been carried out by a core group (‘the expert group’) and in collaboration with numerous experts from the field. The core team consisted of Josephine Bosma (researcher and critic), Martijn van Boven (artist and tutor), Annet Dekker (researcher and curator), Sandra Fauconnier (art historian) and Jan Robert Leegte (artist and tutor). The project was coordinated by LIMA and supervised by Gaby Wijers (director) and Sanneke Huisman (curator). Additional national and international experts were involved in various international meetings. Together with them, a broadly supported selection was made, while the often authoritarian selection procedures that lie at the basis of canonization were critically reflected upon. 
The result can be seen on a website dedicated to the project: The twenty canonical works here each have their own page with images, excerpts, videos, quotes from the artists and texts. The works have been researched for this purpose. In addition, the website also contains clear insight into the development of the selection presented and some critical texts about canonizing digital art. The design emphasizes this dual nature by dividing the website into a front and back. This innovative design is made by Yehwan Song. Song is a South Korean designer, web designer and web developer. She designs and develops experimental websites and interactive graphical interfaces. Song is known for her playful design in which she reverses and challenges the general understanding of web design both conceptually and visually.

The canon is by no means an endpoint, but is the starting point for further investigation of the selected works. The first follow-up steps are already being taken. In addition to the website, an exhibition concept will be developed, which involves various relevant issues. For some of the selected works, for example, only documentation material is left and for other works restoration is needed. The canon is also a starting point for discussion and critical reflection, whereby canon formation and the selection procedure are critically examined. The title of the conversation between Josephine Bosma, Martijn van Boven, Annet Dekker, Sandra Fauconnier, Jan Robert Leegte and Gaby Wijers is significant from this point of view: "Canonization as an Activist Act". The traditional form of canonization is used to open a conversation. The expert group invites the field to make its voice heard. The first external text has already been published on the website: Re-writing the Present: To Inhabit the Inhabitable by Willem van Weelden looks critically and philosophically at (the lack of) historical awareness in the field of canonization and preservation of digital art.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

BPN 1748: Royalty and social media

There is an expression: The first city on gaz is the last on electricity. It looks like this also goes for royal people. It recently happened when Queen Elizabeth sent a first posting on Instagram on March 7, 2019. Rather late in comparison to her first e-mail of March 26, 1976. She really did beat her royal colleagues and the large crowds. 


© Photo: Peter Kirstein

On March 26, 1976, Queen Elizabeth did visit the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment in Malvern (UK). At that occasion the Malvern establishment was linked up to the ARPAnet, the precursor of internet, this was celebrated with forwarding an e-mail. It was Peter Kirstein who put the Queen on ARPAnet with the account HME2 and all she had to do was press a couple of buttons to send off the message.

Today, in just one minute 168 million e-mails are forwarded. 


Photo: Supplied by the Royal Archives © Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

On March 7, 2019 the Queen sent her first Instagram post. She wrote:
“Today, as I visit the Science Museum I was interested to discover a letter from the Royal Archives, written in 1843 to my great-great-grandfather Prince Albert.
Charles Babbage, credited as the world’s first computer pioneer, designed the “Difference Engine”, of which Prince Albert had the opportunity to see a prototype in July 1843.
In the letter, Babbage told Queen Victoria and Prince Albert about his invention the “Analytical Engine” upon which the first computer programmes were created by Ada Lovelace, a daughter of Lord Byron.
Today, I had the pleasure of learning about children’s computer coding initiatives and it seems fitting to me that I publish this Instagram post, at the Science Museum which has long championed technology, innovation and inspired the next generation of inventors.

Elizabeth R."